When the cinematic versions of Lord of the Rings came out I was treated to a slew of articles on race in Fantasy. Most of these were the sort of juvenile drivel that attempted to paint Tolkien as some kind of racist. For the most part the writers of these attacks were exercising their own prejudices, and did not add anything meaningful to the discussion of Tolkien or the use of race in fantasy, in general. More interesting critiques of race in Tolkien involve the use of race as a stand-in for ethnicity/nationality or even social class. Tolkien vehemently denied all of these readings, and allegorical interpretations of his work in general, and my feeling is that he was mostly attempting to create a self-contained world.
Some authors deliberately use fantasy races to examine and confront racial prejudice in a new context, free of the deep complexities that sometimes bog down the discussion of real-world racism. I’m not sure how effective that is. I can think of a few that have backfired, but I can’t think of many that have been truly edifying. I avoid this. Racism is certainly present in the Domains, and the Gladiators often use racial insults as call-ons in their matches, but I’m not really trying to make a complex point with that. The Domains are a multicultural society, but I felt that readers would find it hard to relate to if there was no evidence at all of racism. Gavin worries about it, Omodo suffers from lingering prejudices. The fear of the “other” that informs Racism is perhaps better represented by the Wirn or the other monsters that the Gladiators fight and slaughter in droves.
My use of race in Bloodlust is gamist in its approach. In a well-designed RPG player races, like any character choice, are created to appeal to certain personality types or concepts. it is merely another tool in the kit for describing a character. A player in a game picks a Dwarf because they represent a certain archetype, a set of traits that appeals to them or is useful for the character they want to make, not because the Dwarf represents a particular nationality or race. I make sure to divorce race from culture in the Domains. Everyone, regardless of Race, was thrown together into a very small area during the Reckoning and this submerged most of the old cultures and force the people into a more multicultural and multiracial environment.
In addition, the power structure of the Domains is based around the Gift and the Arena. Any person who has the Gift and chooses to fight has a shot of making it as a Chosen. In theory, this precludes racism and sexism. However, as we see in Omodo’s case the prejudice of the crowd can still shine through despite the supposed fairness of the rules.
Gender is another hot topic in fantasy. In Bloodlust, I set the bar for gender rights close to modern day. The Gift does not discriminate based on gender and so female Gladiators, and female Chosen, are well-represented after a thousand years of the Great Games. I’m actually thinking they might have a slight advantage over the men in the era that the books take place in.
However, despite the rules, and the fact that Magic does not discriminate, there is still prejudice, racism, and sexism in the Domains. Equal opportunity in the rules does not always translate into the arena where popularity and patronage can make a big, but not overtly obvious, difference in a Gladiator’s ultimate success.