I’ve been seeing a lot of recommendations for the Firebird’s Son trilogy by Darth Marrs. They praise the worldbuilding. I really don’t see it, and I’m tired of repeating why, so I’m cataloguing it here.
The Firebird’s Son trilogy is a work of Harry Potter fan fiction. The premise is that, in the UK, there is a strongly matriarchal society, there are about three women for every man, and birth rates are rather low. Furthermore, men and women bond the first time a man has sex, and that bond transfers magic power from the man to the woman.
The sheer number of things that don’t make sense in the story is mind-boggling.
Men are rare — or not
Men are rare and therefore valuable, right? Except almost nothing in the story reflects that.
If men were rare, they would be protected, from infancy to death. What we actually see is a surprising degree of callousness. Boys are allowed to play Quidditch, for instance, despite the risk of injury. And men are even allowed to join the DMLE.
Why? It doesn’t make any sense!
Furthermore, malnutrition can erode your magic power, which (as we’ll discuss soon) impacts your ability to form bonds. But nobody checked on Harry to see that he was being well fed.
Men lose magic power
Men are expected to enter a bond and lose most of their magic. Then, if they have enough magic left, they’re expected to enter another bond. And again, and again, until they’re barely able to hold a wand.
(Squibs, meanwhile, supposedly tend to leave magical society because it’s too tough for them to be able to see magic without being able to perform it. How much worse must it be to be able to do so little when only a few years prior you could do so much more!)
Boys need some amount of magic training, otherwise they’re a danger to themselves and others. However, they don’t need as much as women. It’s a waste of their time and their hope to teach them more magic than necessary for them to control their power.
It would be sensible for men to take administrative positions that benefit less from magic. Accounting should be a popular course for boys.
Bonding is spoken of as if it’s serious business. On the ground, people treat it as if it’s important and weighty. At the administrative level, nobody seems to care much about it.
Bonding is the core of family structure, so it’s not something you want to jump into. Also, bonding someone too young will kill them or render them catatonic. So a sensible person would try to keep boys and girls separate, right? At least in unsupervised conditions — kids aren’t going to molest each other under a teacher’s watchful eye.
But Darth Marrs thinks it’s sensible to keep everyone in the same boarding school, on the same Quidditch teams, with easy access to each other. The only vague sop to separating them he institutes is that they can’t have classes together until fourth year — as if kids tend only to be sexually active before they turn fourteen while in a classroom.
The covens (old, powerful groups of witches) tend to control bonding. They would want to crack down on unauthorized bonding, so segregated classes would be high on their agenda. Women who bond without their consent tend to be in for a rough time (though they can gain status from having a powerful husband), and we don’t really see love matches. Plus if there’s a tacit attempt to get men to rebel more often, bonding won’t help.
Really, no authority figure benefits from unauthorized bonding, and all of them should be in favor of gender segregation.
One problem the series tries to drive home is the declining population in Magical Britain. Everyone talks about it, so you’d expect someone would do something about it.
Combine that with the high gender imbalance and the limits on polygyny, and you should naturally get a high rate of halfbloods with magical mothers. Do we? It doesn’t seem like it. If there were, we’d see population growth, since some 70% of the population is capable of bearing young. Instead of needing two children to break even, as we see in real life, two children would give a 40% increase.
If that doesn’t work, men can’t form a second bond without their first bond-holder’s consent. So you can have a high degree of polygyny without lots of bonding, right? Except nobody has thought of that.
If that also doesn’t work, artificial insemination.
And if that also doesn’t work, research other methods of conception. Find a way to terminate bonds without hurting everyone to ensure that men always have bondmates that can bear children. Try something else. Try something!
But nobody tries anything. Nobody cares.
Similarly, Muggleborns tend to die because they don’t have a witch’s breastmilk. But there’s no attempt to locate them and find them wetnurses, which would add to the magical population.
Everything above was major, story-changing stuff, things that would require the plot to be scrapped or at least major portions of the story to be rewritten. There are also plenty of minor things that could be fixed with smaller modifications:
- Eleven-year-olds engage in sexual banter.
- Harry is an Aether, which is rare and unusual and indicates upheaval. Is it worth keeping him around and in possession of his faculties? Why isn’t he tracked more closely?
- There are not just traditions but important social structures around polygyny. The current situation has been around for nine generations. Is that really long enough to create these social structures?
- Kingsley Shacklebolt is a member of the DMLE. Safety aside, does he have enough magic power to do his job?
- Students take 14 hours per week of Muggle Studies. It’s unclear how many years she teaches, but if it’s even two full years, she’s working very long hours. (Recall that there are at least two classes.)
- Lucius Malfoy went to Azkaban. Does it have any impact on fertility? The bonds? If so, it probably wouldn’t be allowed, but it doesn’t seem likely that Dementors would leave you in a good condition for begetting more children.
- Magical people are “genetically incompatible” with Muggles starting when they turn forty. THAT’S NOT HOW GENETICS WORKS.
What can we learn from this?
Overall, it seems like Darth Marrs had an idea of what style of world he wanted and tried to patch it to make it make sense. But he stopped after one set of patches, ending up with something that only bears up under five minutes of scrutiny, if that. This might be better than average, but it’s still lazy or inept, and I can’t tolerate it.
If you want bulletproof worldbuilding, you need to be adversarial about it. You need to be able to ask in one moment “how do I make this world into one that I want?” and in the next “how might people living in this world break it?” You have to turn the pillars of your universe into problems to be solved and then try to solve them.
Or if that’s too much, you can simply say: there are people working on these problems, but they’ve encountered difficulties and have no working results yet.
Darth Marrs didn’t, and the story suffers for it.