And here I am on a book that totally surprised me this year, climbing its way to being one of the things that I prize.
It wasn’t in the premise, the characters or the plot. The plot followed a fairy tale retelling of snow white except in the eyes of the evil queen. The premise was nothing special. People will rarely like Xifeng, and the other characters rarely are that intriguing or compelling.
I feel that it is the context.
It is a story which offer insight as to what patriarchy is. Xifeng is a woman, and the only way she will be remembered and noticed was if she used a man to gain power.
And that goes into her obsession with her beauty. Any scar on her face cannot stay, it must not as it will ruin her. Who can say that it is wrong? Even in today’s age, we will still be apprehensive towards a girl with scars. Saying that her beauty was ruined.
And it does makes sense with her role as the evil queen. Remember, in snow white she asked: “who’s the fairest of them all?” Not direct, but makes a tie in nicely to the story.
While despising other girls, being paranoid about what they will do to her. It doesn’t make her likeable, she isn’t meant to be. But again, it makes sense.
Women in all times have always tried to step on each other, they are always far more skeptical and cruel to themselves than men. And this is shown here. That women see each other as competition more than as allies. They will rather bring the other down than help the other.
The same can be said when it came to the harem. Be it about the concubines, and even the only shining good person being the Empress. But more than that, it is how this is a reality. Women fight among themselves for the scraps men leave them, and they often tear the other down.
It is both a reflection of how our world treats women, and a critique of how the world is. A lot of stories tackle this problem, but rarely offer any true depth to this problem. This explores it and provides the truth of what it is, of how men remain in control and how they refuse to share it.
It is the truth of how many women rose to power. The reality as it is, that most women simply step on men to maintain control. They use the few things they have, their beauty, their body and of course their sexuality.
And this is why this is so fresh, as it interprets patriarchy and explores just how it is being done. Xifeng is the representation of a woman who used the system to her own advantage, while the world is the one we know of in the past.
Women are downplayed, ignored, and often demonized when their male counterparts will have been encouraged to keep it up. Women have to work so much harder just to gain respect, just to maintain power. Women often have to use men and often depend on them for survival.
This is where I feel that the story is so fresh. No other story I have read has done such a deep critique and interwoven the most fundamental aspects of how patriarchy works. Reducing women to mostly objects, with any form of thought being said to be unwomanly and thus undesirable.
Reducing them to just being nurturers, with their bodies being able to give life, their beauty able to please. To them being decorations, ornaments and baby machines. It is all this that makes this story stand out a lot more. While Xifenh reminds me of the many women who held power in the past, because of the means they had to use it.
This is why I feel that it is fresh. It isn’t a retelling, it is far more than that. And being more than just one thing and doing it well has always been why I like it so much.