Author: Jordan Ifueko
Genre: YA Fantasy
Publication Date: August 18th, 2020
Source: Publisher (Amulet Books)
One Sentence Synopsis
Tarisai has been raised since birth for one purpose (to kill a boy she has never met) but, to get what she craves, she must fight against her upbringing and her mysterious mother, The Lady.
This quote is from an uncorrected copy and may change in the final version
Instead of a quote, I wanted to share the dedication because it hit me right in the feels:
For the kid scanning fairy tales for a hero with a face like theirs.
And for the girls whose stories we compressed into pities and wonders, triumphs and cautions, without asking, even once, for their names.-Jordan Ifueko
Note: The publication date of this book was pushed from April until August due to… *vaguely gestures at everything* But I received an ARC from the publisher before that decision was made. I do plan on sharing this review again closer to the release date, but I couldn’t NOT talk about this book now! Thank you so much to Amulet Books for sending me a free review copy in exchange for an honest review!
I’ve been sitting on this review for awhile because Raybearer is not a book you review off the cuff. No, this beauty needs to be sat with for a moment. Mostly because you need to let the emotions you’re feeling sort themselves out into some form of coherent thought. And partly because it takes awhile to actually emerge from the world of Aritsar once you turn that last page.
In this story, we follow a young girl named Tarisai. She is the only child of a mysterious woman known only as The Lady. From birth, the only other people she has known were tutors who taught her in every subject imaginable. She has never known the love of a close family. She yearns to be held, to be loved, but The Lady has plans for Tarisai. All of Tarisai’s training has been so she can vie for a spot on the Crown Prince of Aritsar’s council, a council that is bound by a force called the Ray. A council that offers Tarisai a closeness she has yearned for. But The Lady has one wish that Tarisai is compelled to obey: kill the prince.
I honestly don’t know where to start when it comes to shouting the praises of this book. I loved absolutely everything about it! From the rich world-building, to the solid characters, to the intricate and well-developed plot, this book was a joy to read. This story evokes West African folklore and mythology and it’s just so beautifully done. It’s colorful and kinetic and something I didn’t know I needed.
I suppose if we must start somewhere, let’s start with the world of Aritsar. Jordan Ifueko does a seamless job of developing this lush and beautiful world without being info-dumpy. You learn about the twelve regions of Aritsar in an effortless way as you follow Tarisai on her journey. The descriptions of the lands are just gorgeous! They are so evocative that you can see yourself sitting in the savannah, watching the tutsu sprites flit in the sun. And the story-telling! Not just the actual story, but how story-telling is described in the story. I felt the beat of the drums and I could envision the griot (the story-teller) as they sung their history and mythology. It was so immersive! Everything about the world-building and the writing makes it so easy to fall into this book and get lost.
And the characters! I’m saying this right now so we can get it out of the way: I LOVE TARISAI! She is so complex and badass and pure and just UGH! She’s amazing. And I can’t tell you how much it meant to me to read about a young, black girl with a broad nose and kinky hair kicking ass in a gorgeous fantasy world where her race wasn’t a plot point. Her character arc was a beautiful thing to behold and I found myself so invested in her life and her dreams. I wanted her to have everything she ever wanted because, damnit, she busts her ass for it! She goes Through It and deserves some damn happiness!
Now, having one expertly crafted character is nice, but it can all be ruined if the secondary characters fall flat. Thankfully, that is not the case in Raybearer! I was so enchanted with the crown prince, Ekundayo, who is a cinnamon roll and I would die for him. No joke. Sanjeet, another councilmember (and possible love interest *eyebrow wiggle*), is the typical Dark and Brooding type, but is still layered and intriguing. And Kirah, Tarisai’s best friend, is a literal ray of sunshine. I will say that we don’t get an in-depth look at quite a few of the councilmembers (there are eleven in total), but I don’t think that detracted from the story at all. After all, the focus is Tarisai and her struggles and I think trying to get inside all the other characters would have been distracting and confusing.
As for the plot, this book was a page-turner from go! You are immediately pulled into Tarisai’s world. You gobble up the pages as you yearn to know what is going to happen to her next and how she will get herself out of the situations she finds herself in. Even in times of apparent peace, you’re on the edge of your seat, waiting for what’s next. At no point did I feel the story lagging or bored in the slightest. I was engaged from beginning to end, so much so that I was kind of upset when the book was over 😂 And just in case you immediately go to Goodreads to see if there is a book two and find no information, don’t fret
like I did! Jordan Ifueko mentioned on her Twitter that she was working on book two and I, for one, CAN. NOT. WAIT!
Final thoughts: This is an exquisite story weaved around West African culture. The story-telling is pure magic and will have you tearing through the pages. If you’re looking for an immersive fantasy story with unique characters and plot that keeps a perfect pace, you will love this book. And if, like me, you’ve been waiting for a fantasy story where the hero looks like you, this will find a special place in your heart.