Human trafficking can take the form of many disguises.
One of the hardest things for me to read in this novel was the treatment of the Affinites in Cyrilia and how they were being lured into the Empire under the guise of promising work, only to be captured by brokers to be used for their affinities. PEOPLE, this is HUMAN TRAFFICKING in case you didn’t know that. This is taking place TO THIS DAY, and not just in the United States, but in other countries as well. I think one of the most “famous” instances of human trafficking are women that are lured to a different country and are ended up being used in strip clubs or brothels. Those are terrible, and yet they happen all over. It’s not something that is rare or anything. This happens, and in the case of Blood Heir, these people are being used by non-magical people for their magic powers, and are being punished for it just because they were born with it.
It hurts to read but I think that Zhao did this in such a great way. She didn’t romanticize it. She didn’t hide the brutalities of what was going on, but still made it so that young adults like me (yes I will forever be a young adult, don’t @ me) can see what is going on in the world, and root for the characters that are standing up to try to change this behavior. There are some characters that may be going at it in a very radical way – to the point that it just shifts the power from one group to another rather than eradicating the negative behavior entirely – but is that worse than just allowing it to happen because you’re not actively being affected by it?
I feel like that was the point that Zhao was bringing to us when she wrote this novel, and that thought has sat with me for a long time, even before reading this novel. The way that Ana was finally on the other side of the castle per se, and was one of the people that were mistreated because of her affinity (even though she had to hide it because it was so powerful and rare that I don’t think anyone else has an affinity like her), she had a moment of reflection where she was like “Was I just blind to the treatment of my people? Was I one of those people that saw what was going on and just walked away, or worse, just didn’t see it at all because it didn’t affect me personally?” And the fact that she was able to think back and see that her inaction was wrong in itself, and actively do something about it rather than go “oh that’s too bad. Oh well.” spoke volumes to me.
Running away from your mistakes can catch up to you later on in life
Both Ana and Ramson were running away from things. Both literally and figuratively. To save their lives, yes, but also to escape some of the actions that they took in the past without having to face the consequences head on. It’s hard to do that even as a “regular” person not living in a fantasy world where there’s affinities and all that, so I understand them. I don’t even hold it against them because I’m sure I would have done the same thing if I were in their shoes. I don’t even know if I would have had the courage or the strength to run away and stay alive after what they went though.
But both find out that they have to face their past in different ways, and even though this past has been haunting them from the moment they ran away from it, they know that they can’t escape it any longer. In reality, I feel like it was a good thing that their past came back to them to deal with, but that it wasn’t right away because they had time to grow and learn from it, and they were able to make better decisions that I feel they will be able to live with now.
I also feel like one of the main things that Zhao taught us in this novel is that at some point, we have to forgive ourselves and move forward. It doesn’t mean forgetting what happened, or pretending like it didn’t happen. It’s more about acknowledging that it happened, and taking action to make sure that you do your best to not repeat that action that was disappointing to you in the first place. Do better for the next time, based on how you felt or how the outcome was for what you did in the past. I feel like while Ana and Ramson may have at some point forgiven themselves for part of their past, they still have a bit to go before they can truly move forward and learn from their mistakes, but at least they are starting to. That was very big on them and I’m so proud of them.