Discussion: The Manon Ethnicity Drama and Representation of Marginalized Communities in S.J Maas’ Books

I normally love funny and light-hearted posts, but today’s post is not going to be that.

Today’s post is going to be about something very near and dear to my heart: diversity and representation in literature and how it is handled. But more specifically, I want to take an opportunity to rant about my thoughts on how  Sarah J. Maas (the author of modern fantasy classics such as Throne of Glass, A Court of Thorns and Roses among other white-centric, heteronormative fantasies) has handled diversity and marginalization with her characters in Throne of Glass. I’ve been wanting to do this post for a long time and to discuss the hypocrisy and the hurt that it’s caused to me, and other members of the community.

So, if you didn’t know, the final book in the Throne of Glass series actually just came out and leading up to the book’s release, special edition jacket art by Charlie Bowater was released, and like many Asians, I found this so upsetting and hurtful, as one of the main characters (Manon) was depicted as Asians. And to all the SJ Maas stans or anyone who may attack this post: I just want to be clear I am not discrediting Charlie’s art in any way, in fact, I think that Charlie is an incredibly talented artist.

However, that does not excuse in any way the hurt or harm she and Maas have caused to the Asian community, especially since they wrongly believed that it was acceptable for them to depict a character who was not at all unambiguously white and to depict her as Asian in order to half-heartedly answer the cries for representation in YA SFF. People can still harm and hurt others whether or not they intend to. Personally, I see this as a feeble attempt to combat the criticism that Maas has received for years about the lack of representation in her books. Yes, I love Asian characters, yes, I love seeing more representation (not just Asian) in the SFF genre, a genre that has traditionally (and sadly, mostly still) very little diversity and marginalization in it.

But here’s the catch: Manon was never explicitly stated and confirmed as Asian throughout the series, in fact, Charlie Bowater has done special edition art of Manon depicting her as white. Through publishing this artwork in the first editions of her extremely hyped release, and in the B&N Special Edition out of all places (which is one of the largest bookstore chains in the U.S with a ridiculously large platform), Maas is essentially advertising to a large platform of her readers that it is okay to change race in order to please her haters, her fans and everybody in between. Fun fact: race is not interchangeable. Ethnicity is something that cannot be changed at whim or just because – someone can’t be Asian for 5 years and then suddenly be white. Do @ me if that technology actually becomes a thing. I will be absolutely shaken to my core.

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Some people actually blow my mind with their theories on how race can be interchangeable in fiction and how characters’ ethnicity can suddenly just change. Wow! Teach me!  But back on topic: generally in fiction, ethnicity has never been, and will likely won’t be interchangeable, and nothing one person says or does will change my mind. There is an explicitly stated PoC character in the Throne of Glass series but Maas killed her off in the second book. What does that say about her treatment of marginalized people in her series?

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(Me @ all the hypocrisy right now).

What a fantastic advocate for PoCs, am I right?

That was sarcasm @ all the S J Maas stans. Deal with it, hon.

I’m not, or will ever, claim I know what Bowater’s and Maas’s intentions were with making Manon Asian on official fanart when Manon was already confirmed to be explicitly whiter than my freshly clean white bedsheet (please don’t take that literally). That does not give them, or anyone, any good reason or manner in which one can justify the hurt they have inflicted in an already highly oppressed community. We homo sapiens live in a society in which marginalized communities have been trampled and oppressed by for centuries (please consult your nearest history professor for more information on colonization and imperialism for further information).

The backlash against members of the community that have spoken out about their hurt and how they have found this problematic by Maas and Bowater stans who like to make enemies of people who don’t like their favorite things. People who forget that other people just may so happen to have different opinions and that not everyone likes the same thing. Please accept that we Asians have been genuinely hurt by actions like this and by some fans who genuinely refuse to be objective. Hurt and being upset are not voluntary emotions and that every single person is each entitled to their opinions. Your favorite things can be problematic, and it’s perfectly acceptable to address these problematic elements and to try to grow and learn from them.

Sans all the sarcasm and the resentment, I genuinely hope that you can at least try to understand both arguments of the coin and that we can use this as a learning experience.

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P.S: in honour of all the respect and consideration towards Asians: an Asian-centric recommendation post will be coming very soon.

P.P.S: Do read May’s hilariously sassy but also important post about her roasting S.J Maas stans and sharing her side of the story.

















20 thoughts on “Discussion: The Manon Ethnicity Drama and Representation of Marginalized Communities in S.J Maas’ Books

  1. Oh, I LOVE this post Taasia! This is exactly everything I wanted to say, and it is worded perfectly 💗 I am so sorry you were hurt by this portrayal of Manon as well — on top of the whole Nagini thing, it seems like this month is just be-racist-against-Asians month. But speaking out is so important and I’m so glad you’re able to do that here. 💕 (And aahh thank you so much for linking to my post!! 😘)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, thanks May! I’m actually planning on writing about Nagini-gate (?) real soon and I really wish people would actually respect other’s opinions? I’m so glad you liked this post, and your post is just so great as well! Though Maas Stans can be so insensitive, your response was EVERYTHING! I’m honestly glad that I was able to speak out and I’m so happy that you could do that too! 💕


  2. Thank you so, so, SO much for speaking about this and I am so so sorry this happened. I also read May’s blog post when she published it and all of the criticism she received for speaking out about this very issue, just…. UGH. I don’t even have a proper word to explain how that makes me feel, so I’ll go with… UGH. I hope you’ll forgive me haha. Thank you so, so much for taking the time to explain everything out and once again, I am so sorry you were hurt by this. I really hope that people will LEARN from this kind of awful, hurtful thing and really DO BETTER. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for making the time to read this, Marie! May’s post is also fantastic and so entertaining but also seriously impactful. I really hope that the industry and media as a whole will take the time to present representation in a more sensitive manner in the future, and that SJ Maas stans maybe just … don’t attack the people whose feelings got hurt by this highly insensitive move? I just really, REALLY hope things go uphill from here.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I hope so too, fingers crossed, really. Thank YOU, really, for this post, it is so important to speak up about these issues and you’re amazing ❤

        Liked by 1 person

  3. This whole situation is a mess, especially when you think of all the people who would have to approve that artwork and it still made it through???

    What also upsets me is the way some fans have reacted. Imagine this situation the other way round. A non-white character being drawn or portrayed on the book cover as white. Everyone would be in absolute uproar. Even the most die-hard SJM fans would have to concede that it was insensitive and shouldn’t have happened. Yet because it’s this way round, people try to argue that “Manon’s ethnicity is ambiguous” or “it’s adding diversity” when actually it’s really harmful.

    This was a really well written post – thank you for being brave and speaking out ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I absolutely agree! The message that SJ Maas and Charlie Bowater and everyone involved in the process have hurt the Asian community, regardless of what their intentions were. The stans made things so much worse and they’ve really unnecessarily added to the hurt when they could’ve … not? And thank you for stopping by and thank you for being so kind, Mattie! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Ugh. As someone who’s read ToG books from the start, when it was just book 1 out I have to say the series will always hold a place in my heart. Also I need to reread the entire series so I can read KoA but young me decided she wasn’t interested in reading Manon’s chapters at the time….so I didn’t know how she was described. (I will be finding out soon in my reread – bad young me for this)

    BUT I’m not blind, I know ToG isn’t without its flaws or problems and honestly, I’m just so sorry this ever happened. It’s wrong and diversity shouldn’t be used as a “marketing tool” or put in as an after thought. Because that’s as harmful as having no diversity…right? Loved this post, and I’m sorry this happened *sighs* and the SJM stans need to get over themselves, she’s not without flaws and neither are her books but we can still love them in my opinion, as long as you can acknowledge that the flaws are there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comment, Clo! It’s so wonderful to get a different perspective on the situation. I actually tried reading the ToG series but quit halfway through Heir of Fire, so I’m far from a SJM stan for sure.

      It’s sad and deeply upsetting that diversity is being used as bait and a marketing tool, and it’s really disappointing that this is still happening in 2018. I really hope this at least lessens significantly in 2019, and hopefully (maybe?) not happen again in 2019 and the years to come.

      I truly cannot understand why so many stans (not just SJM stans) take time out of their day to find people who don’t agree with their opinion and attack them? It just doesn’t make sense, but that’s another topic for another day.

      I completely agree with your last few sentences in particular! You’re absolutely entitled to your opinion, but it’s really important to acknowledge both sides of an argument. The world honestly needs more people like you who can do that. And thank you for the love! It means a lot and I’m glad you enjoyed this post.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m only hearing about this issue now. To be honest, I always saw Manon as an Asian. I read a Tumblr post once that someone’s headcanon in the ToG books is that the different group of witches represented an Asian ethnicity. For example, Central Asia for the Blackbeaks and/or Southeast Asian for the Yellowfoots. After reading that it’s been my headcanon too. I always wanted someone to depict Manon as Asian. After the reveal of the image I was happy, ecstatic even. I’m not defending SJM or anything, I just wanted to put my two cents in there. I hope you get the point of view on someone who is Asian (Southeast) too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I totally understand where you’re coming from, Rafael, and I think that’s great! However, the fact that Charlie Bowater has done special edition art of Manon being white before and then portraying her as Asian, is really dodgy, to be honest. You’re completely valid in your thoughts, I’m glad that made you happy & I can see where you’re coming from. I just found the whole thing to be … really something I’m not comfortable with, personally speaking.


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