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“Powerless”: BookTok’s exemplar

Olivia+Buckel+discusses+Powerless+and+how+BookTok+affected+the+books+content.+
Matt Bango
Olivia Buckel discusses “Powerless” and how BookTok affected the book’s content.

Lauren Roberts’ “Powerless” has taken the fantasy world by storm. With multiple Barnes and Noble exclusive editions, as well as multiple sequels lined up with their own exclusive editions, Roberts has found great success in her writing. This is largely due to her popularity on TikTok, and a niche on that app ‘BookTok.’

BookTok is a community on TikTok where users post videos reviewing, dissecting and recommending books that they love, hate and everything in between. Many new authors have capitalized on this community, taking the opportunity to document the process of writing their first book on TikTok, hoping to gain a following. Roberts did this, documenting her writing of “Powerless” and gaining hundreds of thousands of followers in the process. This led to her self-publishing the book, only for it to be picked up by Simon and Schuster shortly after, leading her to the success she has today.

I was a fan of Roberts throughout her documentation of writing “Powerless,” watching the process go from an initial idea to a full novel and all the work it took for her to get there. She was funny, smart and persevered through every set-back. This insight led to a parasocial relationship and built up my excitement to read the book for myself. It felt like I was supporting a friend; as an avid fantasy reader, I was excited to dive into a new world. 

I read the book in early March and quickly found that – while it does have its strong suits – it fell short in some areas and was, by far, the most BookTok-y book I have ever read.

BookTok is a great place, but there are some parts of it that are not as good, and these elements often have to do with the use of tropes. A trope is a commonly used plot device, archetype, or character that is so popular that it becomes familiar to readers. On BookTok specifically, this is seen mostly in romance. Popular examples would be the enemies-to-lovers trope or friends-to-lovers trope. 

Others include constant witty banter between two love interests, an argument turned love confession, a knife-to-the-throat scene, or a scene where one love interest is gravely hurt, and the other is forced to heal them, pretending like they are not enjoying taking care of them because they are supposed to be “enemies.” There is also, of course, the classic love triangle between two brothers and one girl.

These tropes are not inherently bad. In fact, a lot of the time they make sense to use with how a book is set up, therefore enhancing it. However, because authors are aware that BookTok loves these tropes, there are more and more books popping up with as many tropes shoved into them as possible, as well as books marketed with these tropes as their taglines. This, unfortunately, was the case with “Powerless,” which is what makes it the most BookTok-y book I have ever read. The entire book was banter between the two love interests which got incredibly stale and redundant. A knife-to-the-throat scene happened multiple times, both love interests were forced to dress each other’s wounds more times than I could count, and the male love interest was so protective of the female love interest that I found myself rolling my eyes. It was so predictable that I predicted everything that happened before it happened, as well as the entire ending. It was advertised as a romance and fantasy book, but the romance was such a center piece that the rest of the plot became predictable, as well as not taken seriously at all by the characters. The inclusion of the dreaded love triangle just solidified my disappointment.

Like I said, this book was not all bad. There were some incredible lines and vivid, relatable descriptions of internal struggles within characters. However, the good was drowned by the overuse of tropes.

All of this makes “Powerless” by Lauren Roberts the exemplar of BookTok. The way people could band together and support an author so much that her book got picked up by a well-known publisher is incredible, and that is the good side of BookTok. However, this book was incredibly redundant, as well as a predictable combination of tropes and books that have come before it. Of course literature is subjective and I know that many people really enjoyed this book. I am also glad that Roberts is finding such success because she seems like a great person and passionate about her writing. However, it is undeniable that this novel is incredibly BookTok-y, and it exemplifies the good and the bad aspects of the medium. 

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About the Contributor
Olivia Buckel
Olivia Buckel, Media Beat Reporter
Olivia Buckel is a Media Beat Reporter for The Carroll News. She is from Erie, Pennsylvania, and is currently a freshman at JCU. She is majoring in English with a Creative Writing concentration as well as a Gender, Sexuality and Women’s studies minor. She is also in the Honors Program In addition to writing for The Carroll News, Olivia is also a part of the Honors Service Board, as well as the JCU Allies Club and the Women and Allies Coalition. She is also a Peace, Justice, and Human Rights Ambassador and a prose editor for The Carroll Review. During her free time, Olivia enjoys reading fantasy books, writing fantasy stories, and watching fantasy TV. In the future, Olivia hopes to be an editor for a publishing house or magazine.  

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