‘Only one thing is more powerful than a wish, and that is a purpose.’
Tarisai has always longed for the warmth of a family. She was raised in isolation by a mysterious, often absent mother known only as The Lady. The Lady sends her to the capital of the global empire of Aritsar to compete with other children to be chosen as one of the Crown Prince’s Council of Eleven. If she’s picked, she’ll be joined with the other Council members through the Ray, a bond deeper than blood. That closeness is irresistible to Tarisai, who has always wanted to belong somewhere. But The Lady has other ideas, including a magical wish that Tarisai is compelled to obey: kill the Crown Prince once she gains his trust.
Tarisai won’t stand by and become someone’s pawn – but is she strong enough to choose a different path for herself?
Series: Raybearer #1
Length: 368 pages
Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko is a West-African inspired fantasy novel following Tarisai, the girl from Swana confined to her childhood home, Bhekina House, invisible to outsiders, where she learned everything aside from who she was and how the emperor and his councils worked. When she is sent to the capital of the Aritsar empire with nothing but her ability to see people’s memories, longing only for the mother who remained distant from her entire childhood, she is amazed to find a new family, one who loves her and wants her.
Having struggled to read much of anything for the past few years, I came to a realisation that if I were to rekindle (no pun intended) my love of reading and kickstart a new reading habit, I was going to have to come at it a little differently. No more reading things because I felt I should or I was told a book was great. I’m a big mood reader, so this time around I’d find a book I’m in the mood to read, and read it. The idea is to attempt reading more during the day, rather than at night when I end up making excuses and procrastinating instead. So I picked up my Kindle and just picked something at random, something that looked intriguing and landed on Raybearer, which I believe I picked up in a Kindle sale back in January. Eleven days later, I’d finished the book, and heck it was a great read!
When I’m looking for a book, I need a few things. Primarily, the characters have to have some depth. If I don’t love the characters, the story will be a grind. I also need the writing to flow around the story, showing me the world and everything within it. If I can feel the story, the writing is spot on. And of course, the world, the magic, and the story itself need to enchant me. Raybearer did all of this and more.
Ifueko’s prose weaves a tale as beautiful as though it were told by Am the Storyteller themself, often leaving me in awe of the lyrical nature her words can take, and scattered throughout were folk songs sung by the locals of the Arit empire, creating a very real sense of a world and its beautifully diverse cultures, which is effective in making you care about what happens to its people, how they are treated, and what happens to them.
The characters were complex and interesting. I did grow frustrated with Tarisai at times, though she acted like a teenager who was still discovering who she was, working through years of emotional abuse. Sanjeet was adorable in his determination to protect the ones he loved most. Kirah provided a spark of sisterhood that Tarisai always needed in her life. And Ekundayo is the sweet-hearted young boy that you want for Tarisai, his kindness, and attempts to do right always a comfort. Then there’s The Lady, Tarisai’s mother, I hate her and how she treated Tarisai her entire life and there was a moment late in the story when Tar is talking about abusive parents with another character and I’ll admit, it spoke to me and my own relationship with my own mother, it really hit home. The Lady, though heinous, does have a history and reasons for being the way she is. It doesn’t excuse it and we know that, but she’s an interesting character, for sure.
I read so much medieval European inspired fantasy that the entirety of the Arit empire was like a breath of warm but fresh air. It actually woke me up to the diversity I’m lacking in my fantasy reading and I’m dying to read so much more fiction inspired by all sorts of worldwide cultures now. The way each country is described is wonderful, but none so wondrous as Swana’s savannah with its little specks of light from the tutsu sprites, the fae creatures within, the trees, the people. It feels alive and very real and I long to go there. I was utterly enchanted by the world Ifueko has created.
The magic system is an interesting one. There is magic that can be learned, though many do not. Most of the magic comes from the emperor’s ray and people’s Hallows, a random ability granted at birth. Tarisai’s ability to see people’s memories, take them, grant them, is her Hallow, and each member of the Emperor’s Council must have their own, as well. From healing magic to illusions. It is fascinating. Learned magic is more elemental in nature, and I dearly hope we get to experience more of it in future books.
There were a few moments, maybe halfway through, where I felt some of the dialogue and the reasons behind things felt a little contrived but this didn’t last too long before I was drawn right back into the magic of that beautiful prose once more.
Overall, I loved this book. It was just what I needed after such a long reading slump and I absolutely went ahead and preordered the follow-up, Redemptor, due for release in August. I recommend Raybearer to anybody looking for something a little bit different and hey, the brief asexual representation was wonderful too. But no spoilers from me!
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