I received this book for free from Publicist, Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Ones We Burn by Rebecca Mix
Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books on November 1, 2022
Genres: Young Adult Fiction / Fantasy / Dark Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction / Fantasy / Wizards & Witches, Young Adult Fiction / LGBTQ
Format: ARC, eBook
Source: Publicist, Netgalley
Love and duty collide in this richly imagined, atmospheric young adult debut about a witch whose dark powers put her at the center of a brewing war between the only family she’s ever known and the enemy who makes her question everything.
Monster. Butcher. Bloodwinn.
Ranka is tired of death. All she wants now is to be left alone, living out her days in Witchik’s wild north with the coven that raised her, attempting to forget the horrors of her past. But when she is named Bloodwinn, the next treaty bride to the human kingdom of Isodal, her coven sends her south with a single directive: kill him. Easy enough, for a blood-witch whose magic compels her to kill.
Except the prince is gentle, kind, and terrified of her. He doesn’t want to marry Ranka; he doesn’t want to be king at all. And it’s his sister—the wickedly smart, infuriatingly beautiful Princess Aramis—who seems to be the real threat.
But when witches start turning up dead, murdered by a mysterious, magical plague, Aramis makes Ranka an offer: help her develop a cure, and in return, she’ll help Ranka learn to contain her deadly magic. As the coup draws nearer and the plague spreads, Ranka is forced to question everything she thought she knew about her power, her past, and who she’s meant to fight for. Soon, she will have to decide between the coven that raised her and the princess who sees beyond the monster they shaped her to be.
But as the bodies pile up, a monster may be exactly what they need.
This is just my Goodreads review which I put up in early July, and I want it Out of my netgalley queue. I have thought about this book way too much and I am Done Thinking About It.
I want to write this here and now: this book is not antisemitic. The magic in the book is not really blood-related; Ranka’s powers mostly revolve around her craving death. (I mean there’s also other magic but it also isn’t antisemitic). This can be gross and gory and unpleasant, but it is not antisemitic. There is no blood libel in this book. Blood libel involves killing and eating babies and/or drinking their blood for 1) dark Jewish rituals and/or 2) fun. A blood witch character would need to be coded as implicitly or explicitly Jewish, and Ranka is not. Just having a blood witch character or having a blood magic trope does not make this book anti-Jewish.
updated 7/3 to add: have seen someone say that because Ranka goes to Seaswept with the express intention of murdering Galen with blood magic, that’s a harmful antisemitic stereotype. I must say, assassination is not antisemitic as a concept (and I’ve already covered how the ‘blood magic’ in this book is not blood-libel related). If Ranka was implied to secretly be controlling the world order with her blood-eating rituals, that would be antisemitic. However, she does not have any blood-eating rituals. Also, if Ranka was also implied to be Jewish, that would be problematic, but she is not – she is blonde and is not at any point is portrayed with any stereotypically jewish traits, positive or negative. Ranka is one of the Least Jewish characters I have ever read about. And I read all the 100 books.
Mix writes (7/11): “The plot line involving blood-magic draws heavily from my own experiences of the physical consequences of trauma and my brain injury. The subsequent resolution is directly informed by my daily HGH injections to resolve my major IGF deficiency. There is no ritualistic use of blood or consumption of blood in the text.” which rings true for me; whenever Ranka meets another blood witch, she is desperate to make friends with them and to share her experiences, which reads more like a metaphor for queerness or chronic illness. If it was intended to be blood libel, Ranka would have an active community of Jewish people around her, helping to commit more blood-eating rituals. Instead, Ranka is totally and brutally alone in her experiences at the beginning of the book.
Absurdly long addition 7/26:
Jake Maia Arlow (author of the excellent How to Excavate a Heart) writes (6/26): “this is also how i feel about the fact that it’s about a blood-witch. like do i think it’s purposefully anti-semitic? no. is it about a powerful witch who gains magic from blood and is persecuted for that a la literally every blood libel stereotype leveled at jews? yes”
1) it is not about a powerful with who gains magic from blood – this is not how the magic system really works, and also she doesn’t gain magic from blood, she gains it from death.
2) is she persecuted for being a blood witch? yes and no? she thinks she is persecuted for it more than the actual reality of it happening (disparate people in power have different opinions about various things), and also blood witches are both rare and respected within the text (Ranka is a blood witch but the previous queen was ALSO a blood witch, and also more blood witches are happening and …It’s also a story of unlearning your previous biases and learning that you aren’t a monster, so this one is complicated). Being a blood witch is something that I personally relate more to having a chronic illness than a persecution narrative. I personally didn’t find it antisemitic, but I don’t usually think “all persecution narratives are automatically about jewish people”, although obviously we can relate to persecution narratives due to [waves hand at history, Remember That We Suffered starts playing in the background]. And due to the fact that the blood magic is so far removed from blood libel, these two facts don’t really connect into something that is antisemitic. (Compare/contrast to Wild and Wicked Things which also has blood witches and lesbians. I should reread that book, which I did say I was going to do; I remember nothing about it due to the fact that I read too many books. Also probably compare/contrast to Gideon the Ninth which also has lesbians and blood magic, which I remember nothing about due to not having read it).
This is the only other Jewish person I was able to find talking about this book (with specifics), not counting the tiktok comments I trawled through, which I will not relate due to how awful tiktok comments are to follow (both in terms of content and in terms of how tiktok is set up). I also did further research bothering Everyone I Know and also some people I don’t know about blood magic and if it is Always Blood Libel If It’s Blood Magic, and the general consensus is this:
Blood magic is not always blood libel, especially when it does not contain any blood libelous aspects. It’s a fairly universal concept to say “hey, this red stuff inside of us could be magical!” It can also be noted that we do not consider blood magic practiced by Latin-American or Afro-Caribbean cultures to be antisemitic. HOWEVER. Jewish people can be triggered by the inclusion of blood magic because of, you know, centuries of blood libel. I think that people who are affected by this content can read the synopsis and say “wow, this book is not for me, because it includes blood magic, which I am triggered by”. (Obligatory; content warnings are not moral or immoral, they are literally just warnings for content).
update 7/28: doing regular twittering and found this thread by Dahlia Adler (editor of all my favorite anthologies) which reads “In general the amount of “This is antisemitic!!” I’ve seen going around about stuff that patently is not is uhhh disconcerting? Because I know you mean well but all it tells me is you associate us with even more terrible stuff than the baseline.” Further, Abby Pickus in the quoted thread writes “I actually have read it, and it didn’t seem blood-libelly to me, since I don’t think anyone actually consumes blood. The “blood magic” is handled very differently.” (“it” being The Ones We Burn in this context)
I am Jewish disclaimer etc etc. Nothing about us without us. Rating for visibility, this is literally the longest book review I’ve ever written, I absolutely cannot have any further thoughts about it. I also love to be proven wrong; please feel free to argue with me in the comments, or I have an open Goodreads inbox.