Where to even begin with this book. I try to give all books the benefit of the doubt. I was even tempted to toss this into the “did not finish” pile, but I mostly wanted to see how much of a hole Ridley Pearson could write himself into and to write a review that prevented others from spending money on this book. The concept of this novel is enough to pique the attention of most Disney lovers and Pearson has a history with this series that certainly inspires readers to revisit it. But whatever childlike gleam this series once held has been tarnished by this reintroduction to the Kingdom Keepers.
The Kingdom Keepers series was first introduced in 2005 and ran until 2013, a second series was released between 2015 and 2017 under the title Kingdom Keepers: Return. I never read the books in totality, but I was very familiar with the series, especially as I grew up and met more Disney fans who had loved this series when they were young readers. This new chapter in the story starts with book one of the Inheritance series and it is an unfortunate return to a once-clever world.
I say this as a white writer: it can be difficult to describe characters and their features when they are not something that you see in the mirror every day. That’s why it’s important to have sensitivity readers to ensure that you aren’t crossing unintentional lines or misrepresenting a group of people you do not belong to. For as much progress as Disney Publishing has had had over the past five years, Kingdom Keepers: Inheritance feels like a giant step backward. The young cast of characters is refreshingly diverse, yet Pearson repeatedly feels the need to force these kids to belittle their own appearances.
Early on in the book Marty reflects on how his “perma-tan” complexion he got from his Costa Rican father and “nearly albino mother.” It’s perfectly acceptable to just say she’s super pale, considering albinism is an actual medical condition, not a descriptor for pale complexions. Later on, another kid calls Marty a “girl” because he dyes his hair—reinforcing unfortunate gender stereotypes. Another character reflects on how if his hair isn’t woven into tight cornrows he has it combed out “into an exploding Afro.” Neither of which add anything to the characters or the plot.
Blair is another character who Pearson imploys self-hated to describe. For no apparent reason, in the midst of a fairly dire situation, she decides to reflect on how her twin brother got all of the attention back home. Neither of her parents cared about her, apparently. Pearson makes sure the readers know her mother is white and her father is black (yes, with a lowercase ‘b’). He also points out that this thirteen-year-old girl hates her thighs, her pimples, and her split ends.
Eli also finds himself reflecting on his dislike for his own appearance in the middle of a roller coaster ride. He compares himself to the other kids who are “strong or pretty” while putting himself down by thinking he’s “boring-looking” because–and here’s the real kicker–Pearson spells it out. Eli is boring-looking because “Freckles. Brown hair. Darkish skin. (His mother was part Asian; his father, Caucasian.)” Yes, yet another mixed-race child takes time to tell the reader why they’re somehow less attractive or not so thrilling and it’s all linked to their heritage. Young readers who might see themselves in these characters don’t need to have these worries thrust upon them. Society does plenty of that on its own.
Some of the descriptions Pearson uses are jarring and completely out of place with the whimsy of the book’s setting. He describes a Japanese woman’s voice as “even and without emotion” playing into the near-silent Asian trope. With the central plot of Kingdom Keepers: Inheritance focused on all things Aladdin, the story transports the young cast to the desert, which Pearson repeatedly refers to with derogatory descriptors–you can almost picture the yellow haze of Hollywood’s “Middle East filter” on the rat-filled, dirty land with its stale bread, bad smells, brown garb, and smelly brown water. But don’t worry, there’s plenty of dates, hummus, pita bread, and grape leaves to go around. The only food ever enjoyed in the desert.
Book One of Kingdom Keepers: Inheritance is a disappointing mess of dehumanizing descriptors, othering language, and misplaced aggression towards a cast of young characters who lack the charm and warmth of their predecessors because the author seems to be focused on maliciously checking boxes. Hold onto whatever nostalgia you hold for Pearson’s original series and don’t spoil it with this book.
Kingdom Keepers: Inheritance arrives on shelves on August 8, 2022.
Kingdom Keepers: Inheritance
Book One of Kingdom Keepers: Inheritance is a disappointing mess of dehumanizing descriptors, othering language, and misplaced aggression towards a cast of young characters who lack the charm and warmth of their predecessors because the author seems to be focused on maliciously checking boxes.1.0/10
Maggie Lovitt is a writer at Wealth of Geeks where she covers her favorite topics: Star Wars and pop culture nerdery.
In her free time, she is also a novelist, screenwriter, actor, and member of the Screen Actors Guild.