Found Family in Raybearer | Book Review

【 RAYBEARER 】

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The next best thing in YA fantasy.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Author: Jordan Ifueko
Published: August 2020
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Pages: 496 (paperback)

Quick thoughts
This was an utterly captivating, African-inspired fantasy that I cannot get enough of. Tarisai was a wonderful character with a perfect blend of internal conflict. The wrought tensions between all the characters made this plot sizzle with animosity as much as love.

Side note: there is a glossary and pronunciation guide at the back of the book.

Take me to Aritsar
This is an epic land with a solid nod to its African inspiration. We have a kingdom divided by twelve realms and Tarisai is from Swana. Each realm has its own traditions and Ifueko has woven these in so well – it could so easily have been overwhelming, but instead it felt natural and never confusing.

You write your own story, not the people who came before you.

Plots and secrets
The main plot of this book is that Tarisai is commanded, via a wish, to get onto Dayo’s Council and then kill him. Her mother, the Lady, is a very dark character that we distrust from the set off, but once Tarisai arrives in the capital, she quickly becomes determined to defy the Lady.

The Council of each emperor is made up of 11 people, one person from each realm. And when they are sworn into the “Ray” they become akin to brothers and sisters. Not only that, but each Council member offers the emperor (or prince) immunity to one way of dying. This means that by the time a full Council is sworn in, the emperor/prince cannot die by any but a Council member’s hand.

The layers of secrets that Tarisai has to bury herself in to protect Dayo is deep. She’s constantly fighting an internal battle of wanting to stay away to keep him safe, but also wanting to be close to protect him that way.

What I loved
With all these factors in play there’s so much to love about this story. We have own voices rep for starters, and then a fantasy set in a world like we haven’t seen in mainstream YA fantasy before.

The characters’ relationships with each other add so many layers to the story, and are some subtle queer hints on occasion too. Dayo and Tarisai have a tense and fantastic relationship, Tarisai and Sanjeet are something I ship so hard, Kirah is my favourite and I’m SO keen to see what happens to Woo In in book two.

There’s just so much to look forward to in these pages and a total absence of overused tropes, no love triangles here my friends.

I think deep down, we’re afraid that things could get better. Afraid to find out that all the evil–all the suffering we ignore–could have been prevented. If only we had cared enough to try.

I also loved the reoccurring theme of being proud of your heritage. That is something Tarisai deals with on a personal level, as well as something tackled in the wider context of the book. With so many cultures melting into the identity of a unified empire, this is definitely addressing the complicated nuances of colonisation and how to keep culture alive.

Final thoughts
I can’t wait to continue this series because I’m totally obsessed. This is a book you’ll be wanting to read because Ifueko is surely the next big thing.

This review was featured on Twinkl as part of their Top reads for 2022 campaign.

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