Rotherweird and Race - Review
by Amy Baxter
I will not lie; I picked up Rotherweird purely for the quote on its front cover. 'Harry Potter for adults', it tells me!
I’m instantly sold.
How could I not be? I, a millennial. Raised as I was on the adventures of Harry, Ron, and Hermione, desperate as I still am to see my owl turn up (a decade late) with my acceptance letter to Hogwarts, how could I ignore such an invitation? To the editorial assistant who chose it for the cover, I salute you. What a sales pitch!
So, does it live up to the hype? Rotherweird is indeed an excellent example of world-building within the parameters of popular history, clearly fantastical yet incredibly compelling. Any connections to the world of Harry Potter are unfortunately limited to this. The packaging is perhaps not the most accurate, but the contents within are certainly interesting.
Andrew Caldecott, novelist, QC, and occasional playwright, brings us to a mysterious town in rural England. It is a bubble, protected entirely from British politics; it has no MP, it has no police, it has no bishop. It is a town disdainful towards outsiders, “countrysiders”, as they are known to those of Rotherweird. In the sole school, no history prior to 1800 can be taught, yet all the children are ridiculously intelligent. And then wanders in the bumbling new history teacher, the outsider Jonah Oblong. What could possibly happen next?
Rotherweird was a fun, and sometimes challenging read. I am a self-confessed commercial fiction consumer. I love women’s fiction, I love YA. Ultimately, I found Rotherweird to be a satisfying read - satisfying enough that I recommended it to a number of friends and family who I knew were interested in fantasy. But then I had a thought.
It was a passing thought, but once I’d had the thought, I found my overall positive view of Rotherweird, and indeed, its sequel Wyntertide, slightly dented.
The thought was: how does a book fundamentally focused on xenophobia in England through the ages deal with the theme of race?
And the answer was, of course, by totally ignoring it.
Now, before you get your reverse racism knickers in a twist, let me finish the thought. This review is not a battlecry for every race and creed to be included in every book ever. What I’m really asking is how the concept of race could possibly have been excluded from a narrative that discusses xenophobia. Why is class considered important, but not race? This is the crux of existence for non-BME people; to be able to ignore the concept of race entirely, except when one explicitly wants to address it.
This is not a flaming criticism of only Caldecott. Actually, it’s an issue Harry Potter faces too. The only non-white persons explicitly mentioned as existing in Hogwarts were the not-very-subtly indicated Patil twins. I am choosing to ignore J. K. Rowling’s attempted shoe-horning in of ambiguity of Hermione’s race a decade and eight movies later. The Harry Potter series is still one of my favourites of all time! I have read it endlessly, I love it dearly. But why are all magical people white? Why can race be ignored in the fantasy genre entirely?
Dear reader, I do not know what the answer is when it comes to race and the fantasy genre. I genuinely enjoyed Rotherweird, ignoring some of my struggles with its over-convoluted language. However, it cannot be denied that race is expressly ignored as a concept when the entire premise is to do with xenophobia. If poverty and class can be tackled gracefully, why not race? I look forward to Caldecott’s next adventure, though with baited breath.