The epic and phenomenal West-African inspired New York Times bestselling YA fantasy from an incredible new talent. ‘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?
Tarisai of Swana was born to kill a future Emperor. Her mother, known as ‘The Lady’, invokes a binding magical command Tarisai cannot resit: once Tarisai is trusted by Prince Ekundayo and is anointed onto his council, she must kill him. With no choice but to obey, Tarisai enters the council’s candidacy race. What transpires next is an epic tale of fighting to change destiny, championing friendship and becoming the hero no one realises they truly need. Raybearer is packed with inspiring imagination and soul from an undeniably talented debut author.
This book can only be described as phenomenal. Although, I must say, I initially struggled to get into this story; I felt like I’d been thrown into the deep end without any floating aids or any prior knowledge of how to swim. But once I got my bearings, I was absolutely hooked. I still remain absolutely astonished this was a debut novel.
The world building of Raybearer was richly descriptive and entirely immersive. The setting is Aritsar, an empire consisting of thirteen realms, with the story primarily set in the realms of Oluwan (where the Emperor lives) and Swana (Tarisai’s home). The other realm of importance is Songland. This is because three hundred souls, known as Redemptors, are surrendered to the Underworld every year to keep demons (called abiku) from attacking the empire. For some unknown reason, the Redemptors only come from one area of the empire, Songland.
Every emperor of Aritsar has the special power called “the Ray” – this power was sought out hundreds of years ago by the very first emperor of the empire, Enoba, in a time unification of neighbouring islands was desired. The power of the Ray allows the Emperor immunity from death until old age (but is vulnerable to those he trusts i.e. his council…)
The Emperor has a council of eleven people from across the realms of the empire. This council provides the emperor with immunity to death from everything and everyone, but the council themselves, are capable of hurting, even killing, the emperor. The Emperor’s Ray power also allows him to connect the minds of his council to him and to each other.
The members of the Emperor’s council must possess a birthright ability – called a Hallow – like being able to heal or being able to manipulate plants. If they don’t have a “Hallow”, then they’ll be dismissed. Luckily for Tarisai, she does have a hallow: she has the ability to read people’s memories.
I mean, how bloomin impressive is all of that? That’s not even beginning to cover the creatures in the story; sprites, ehru’s, spirit-beasts and alagbatos (the guardians of life), to name some. I massively enjoyed this world. The sheer brilliance and imagination… No words will truly do it justice; I can’t do anything but bow for Jordan Ifueko.
Tarisai of Swana is such an endearing protagonist. She has been deprived of love and human connection for most of her life, up until she becomes a candidate to join Dayo’s council. It was difficult to see her grow up in isolation due to her ability to see and take people’s memories. Then it was very emotional to see Tarisai’s journey of discovering her sense of self and her self worth, seeing her being embraced and loved by those around her and learning to see the good in her gift rather than feeling like its a curse. Also, I was delighted to see a focus on the idea of justice and the law through Tarisai and one of her mentor’s, High Lord Judge Thaddace. Tarisai witnesses the implications policy has on the realms and, more and more as the story goes on, she begins to find her confidence to challenge the rules, that have lead to such misery and persecution, like cultural cleansing. Am I love her.
Through Tarisai, the ensemble of characters and the overarching plot come together perfectly. The threads were woven together so smoothly with each and every character being well crafted. There’s Tarisai’s childhood relationships – her mother, father and her guardians – and then there’s the present group, her fellow council candidates and the reigning Emperor’s council who teach the children. The nature of the council created an intimate atmosphere of friendship; Tarisai quickly befriends another girl, Kirah, who has the ability to heal, and also Sanjeet, who has the ability to see people’s physical weaknesses, making him the ideal candidate to lead the empire’s army. Then there’s Dayo, who, much to Tarisai’s chagrin, is easy to love with his pure soul. All of the characters were so vibrant, with interesting side characters who all feel relevant and fleshed out, and I care about them all deeply – for good or bad.
The romance! From the offset, my heart was set on one boy and one boy alone. Thankfully, Raybearer does not have a love triangle. The romantic elements were an undercurrent throughout the book, even when the characters were being more subtle in approaching their feelings and navigating friendship. I was greedy for every little bit of romance these characters shared and continue to want more and more.
Also, with respect to a different character, I was ecstatic to see what I believe to be asexual representation (hopefully we’ll find out more in the sequel!).
My only minor criticism of Raybearer… is it felt like it was constrained by the “young adult” genre. At its centre was the potential to tell a grander tale without holding back. It skirts around sex scenes, violence and the like, when if these things hadn’t been, so to speak, censored, I definitely believe the book would have been even more enjoyable than it was. I beg not to be misunderstood here, because the book was an incredible read, it just felt like it wasn’t being allowed to explore everything available. Nevertheless, the as-is-PG version was fantastic.
Raybearer has one of the most gripping endings I’ve read in a while. The revelations! The theatrics! The most ingenious ways to set the stage for a sequel! I don’t know what I’d of done if I had to wait for the sequel – patience as a virtue be damned. I wouldn’t say it is the worst of cliffhangers, but it will definitely leave most readers with a burning need to return to this world and know how it all ends.
All in all, Raybearer is one of the best YA fantasies I have ever read. It was on my mind constantly – during and after reading it – and I honestly don’t see myself ever forgetting this story. I wish I could put this book in everyone’s hands, it’s unbelievably good. I’d happily reread this book without hesitation and eagerly (EAGERLY) await the Netflix adaptation of this series. Book friends, do yourself the biggest of favours this Spring break – add this book to your TBR, it’s a must read!
Thank you for reading!