“Moon Called” – Skin Deep Diversity

Alright, so I’m finally getting around to something resembling my original intentions when I set out to re-read and look at the crafting of the characters in Moon Called by Patricia Briggs. Fair warning, I did more math, but we’ll get to that in a minute. Today I’m going to look the diversity of the characters in Moon Called, where the novel succeed and how it failed in this area. Yes, it did both. With that I’m going to looking at appearances, personalities (or lack thereof), some more statistics I threw together, and whatever else pops up.

So let’s look those numbers I tirelessly calculated, and get that out of the way. I really had no idea how handy my statistics course would be to me as a writer, but I use what I’ve got.

By standard ethnic demographics:

Race Percentage
Caucasian 65.51
Hispanic/Latino 13.79
 African American 10.3
  Native American 6.89
Chinese 3.44

So there are the numbers, looking at the ethnic breakdown in numbers you’d think we’d be in for a novel with characters that have diverse fears, motivations, personalities, and conflicts in addition to appearances. You’d be wrong. Briggs captured diversity in Moon Called but it is only skin deep.

I touched on this in my last post, but it is a reoccurring issue throughout Moon Called that echoes here. The supporting characters in Moon Called just don’t have the depth needed for the diversity in appearance to allow readers from these groups to identify with them.

For insistence we have Darryl, whose mother is Chinese and father is an African tribesman. What do we know about him by the end of Moon Called? He ranks second in the pack hierarchy, he’s a PhD engineer who works at Pacific Northwest Laboratories, he values loyalty, and he’s married. Most of this information is told to readers on two different pages.

After 288 pages that’s all we know about Darryl. Does he like football or soccer? No clue. Business suit or casual? Not really sure. Why? Because his longest piece of conversation on page 209 reveals nothing about him. Darryl’s dialogue there recants the plot up to that point from the pack’s point of view. I’ve been reading the entire book, didn’t need the recap I needed that dialogue to tell me something about Darryl.

I’m kind of pissed off about that, and feeling a little unsatisfied. And why the hell can’t he be a banker, real estate agent, cabaret singer, or theater performer? Did he have to fill the trope of engineer? That’s just lazy in my opinion, not to mention fulfilling a stereotype and actually hurting the diversity of the character. And is a hot-tempered really suited to be an engineer?

To make it worse it’s not just one character where the diversity aspect is only skin deep.

The protagonist, Mercy Thompson, is Native American and Caucasian, so you would think that there would be some inclusion of those Native traditions. Nope, chalk that up to sleeping through opportunity’s call. Other than lore of Walkers there is really nothing related to Mercy’s Native American heritage. Even the lore regarding Walkers is sparse, because the protagonist knows nothing about that part of her heritage. So really that racial blend is just a convenient way to make her part of the supernatural world but outside of the werewolf pack structure.

Making the protagonist’s lack of knowledge on her own history both in racial tradition and supernatural lore even sloppier character development is that Mercy grew up with Charles who is the grandson of a medicine man. Alright I get it there are two different tribes in play. But does that really excuse Charles from teaching Mercy nothing about her supernatural heritage? Would Charles have not learned something from her great-grandfather’s uncle who was part of the pack?

Even if we swallow that madness, it just keeps going.

As readers are we really supposed to believe that Charles, the two-hundred-plus-year-old grandson of a witch and medicine man, has never heard of Walkers? That’s had never run across another Walker? I can buy that he couldn’t teach Mercy how to use all of her magic, but I can’t buy that he doesn’t know a guy who knows who, well, knows a guy that could. If you buy that, I got a bridge for sale.

You would think Charles would understand just how rare Mercy is, and why it would be important to for her to have all of her magic. Or at least know more about it than shifting into a coyote and magic doesn’t always work. Why is that important? Gee, maybe so Mercy isn’t slaughtered like a lamb by vampires because they’ve been at war with Walkers for centuries.

After swallowing all that other madness I as a reader I have to swallow that Charles, an extremely dominate werewolf, wouldn’t have wanted to give Mercy that edge and means of protection? We really don’t know because we don’t know much about Charles either.

So I’m sure some of you are understanding that there is a problem with diversity and some of you already knew that. Some of you might be thinking, as a writer is diversity really my concern? Some might be saying how as a writer can I address this? Some others might be asking how do I incorporate diversity without alienating those groups I’m trying to include?

Aside from the first, these are great questions. To the first, it is. I’m going to refer you all to a passionate and insightful post by a writer named Zina titled Urban Fantasy 101-Gentry-Fication that covers all those questions in detail. The big take away from this is to make the diversity more than skin deep, do your research, and stay away from stereotypes. Finally after all of that look into forming a working relationship with a group of diversity readers.

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