Not Quite J.K. Rowling
Author: Brinkley Blum
Posted September 25th, 2020
Love Harry Potter, but Disappointed with J.K. Rowling’s Actions? Here are Some Similar Books to Recapture the Magic of Reading
The title of J.K. Rowling’s newest novel under her pseudonym Robert Galbraith, Troubled Blood, was an apt predictor of how the press would receive it. The newest installation in her Cormoran Strike series of murder mysteries was lambasted by critics for the portrayal of the man behind the murders - a cisgender man, who dresses as a woman to execute his crimes. Rowling’s brand of trans-exclusionary, radical feminism has long been examined under the scathing microscope of Twitter, the medium through which she compared transgender medical care to conversion therapy, denounced an op-ed for using the term “people who menstruate” instead of “women,” and advocated on the behalf of a woman who’d been fired from her job for transphobic remarks. With Troubled Blood’s release the glass, and the world-renowned reputation beneath it, has shattered.
That reputation was built upon the beloved Harry Potter franchise, a series spanning seven books, eight films (ten if you include those that are part of the Fantastic Beasts spin-off), and a domain all its own at Universal Studios theme parks. Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was considered a haven of acceptance, with its doors open to all who had found the magic within themselves. However, in light of Rowling’s actions against the transgender community, some fans, myself included, feel that those doors have closed on them. Yet, as I have experienced through my love of reading, when one book closes, another opens to a world where people of all types can fit between the lines.
Here are some of my favorite series of books that open the door to that world, featuring some of the hallmarks of the Harry Potter series, while creating a wholly original story of its own.
C.J. Redwine’s Ravenspire Series
I took no breaks between the first page of The Shadow Queen and the last page of The Blood Spell - that is the peak of addiction that this series will have you climbing. Each of these exceptionally written books is modeled after a different fairy tale (Snow White, Rumpelstiltskin, The Prince and the Pauper, and Cinderella, respectively), and each features a different cast of characters at its center (though some make reappearances every now and then). In fact, a few of them may remind you of some familiar faces at Hogwarts - Gavril in The Shadow Queen is reminiscent of Albus Dumbledore, while The Blood Spell’s heroine, Blue, shares her intelligence and wit with Hermione Granger. Some magical creatures from Harry Potter share the pages with this series, dragons especially, yet a menagerie of unique fauna populate the kingdoms within it, from the Venetian canals of Súndraille to the sand-swept deserts of Akram. Moreover, the author stresses diversity within the series - the protagonists of The Traitor Prince, as well as those of The Blood Spell, are BIPOC, while my personal favorite character, Ari of The Wish Granter, is plus-size. All four of these books are gems for any bookshelf, an I highly encourage you to read all four.
Adriana Mather’s Killing November Series
Academy Absconditi is probably the closest we can get to a real-world Hogwarts. Though, instead of learning about hexes and Horcruxes, the uber-privileged students of Absconditi are studying knife throwing and killing tactics. Among them is titular character November Adley (who was born in August, as she’ll tell you on the first page), whose outsider status may have readers recall Harry Potter’s within the halls of Hogwarts. Her fellow students are nowhere near as friendly as Ron and Hermione, but their deceptive antics are perhaps even more exciting to read about. While there isn’t a speck of magic in this story, the haunting atmosphere of Absconditi creates the illusion of it. The title of the first book promises murder, and boy, does it deliver. I was instantly connecting push pins with yarn on a corkboard in my mind, and I couldn’t rest until I’d found the culprit. And the cliffhanger, definitely won’t have you resting.
Rainbow Rowell’s Simon Snow Series
Written as a direct response to Harry Potter, Rainbow Rowell reimagines the series with a gay lead character. However, her tweaks to these literary icons go far beyond that, including a Draco Malfoy-type vampire love interest, a sassy, Indian stand-in for Hermione, and a reflection of Ginny that the author actually took time to give three-dimensions. The writing perfectly meshes the laugh-out-loud moments (in this system of magic, every spell is a pop culture reference, including “U can’t touch this!” and “have a break, have a Kit Kat!”) with the ones that will leave you an emotional wreck. Most notably, the overarching themes of this story are trauma and its devastating aftereffects, and they are handled with the grace and realism that J.K. Rowling would use when discussing touchy subjects in Harry Potter. (Well, used to). It’s been years since I attended the Watford School of Magicks, and my memories of this book are still glimmering. I know for a fact that it will create a similar nostalgia within you.
Nina Varela’s Crier’s War Series
All I can think of when this duology comes to mind is love - the love that Crier and Ayla share, my love for them, and my love for the world they inhabit. The emotions that this series stirred within me incircle my (iron) heart like a tornado, an impact only matched by the emotional response of Harry Potter. Like with that story, your investment in these characters’ journey is well-spent, and your mind is simply along for the ride as you read with your heart. It is matters of the heart that this book touches on, as it grapples with the theme of what defines humanity - being born that way or having love in your heart. The world of Rabu is breathtaking, with labyrinthine landscapes that are all too easy to get lost in. However, no matter how captivating the setting is, at its core, this is a story of two girls in love. And isn’t love, according to Harry Potter’s logic, the only thing stronger than magic?
Zoraida Córdova’s Brooklyn Brujas Series
In the reimagined Brooklyn that these brujas call home, magic takes two forms. Its literal sense, through their powers of healing and control of the elements (among other wondrous things), and something even more powerful: their identities as young, Latinx women. The three of them - Alex, Lula, and Rose - are sisters, and each book is told from one of their perspectives. All three of their journeys are different, but they are all inextricably connected through their deeply rooted themes of family, romance, and magic, both outside and within themselves. While on the complete opposite end of the cultural spectrum, many of these common themes, as well as the concept of a hidden magical world within our real one, are shared with Harry Potter. Unlike Harry Potter though, the diversity of Brooklyn is what truly shines through. Aside from the Latinx trio at its center, the majority of the cast is BIPOC, and, on top of that, there’s a multitude of LGBTQ+ characters, including, in Wayward Witch, one who identifies as non-binary. These labels are both integral to these characters’ identities, but, separated from them, they stand on their own; their humanity is fully captured. Where Harry Potter had only crumbs of diverse representation that were stale with stereotypes, the Brooklyn Brujas serve the full buffet.
If you choose to read any of these series, don’t hesitate to find me and let me know if you enjoyed them as much as I did! Part of the joy that reading brings me is sparked with conversations surrounding books that me and a friend, or even a stranger, mutually adore.