Excerpt from Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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by Jordan Ifueko

Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko X
Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2020, 368 pages
    Aug 2021, 400 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Michelle Anya Anjirbag
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Chapter 1


When elephants passed by in a lumbering sea beneath my window, flecks of light whispered in the dust, dancing above the rows of tusks and leather. I leaned precariously over the sill, hoping to catch a fleck before a servant wrestled me inside.

"Shame-shame, Tarisai," my tutors fretted. "What would The Lady do if you fell?"

"But I want to see the lights," I said.

"They're only tutsu sprites." A tutor herded me away from the window. "Kind spirits. They guide lost elephants to watering holes."

"Or to lion packs," another tutor muttered. "If they're feeling less kind."

Magic, I soon learned, was capricious. When I squinted at the swollen trunk of our courtyard boab tree, a cheeky face appeared. Kye, kye, killer-girl, it snickered before vanishing into the bark.

I was seven when the man with cobalt-fire wings found me. That night, I had decided to search Swana, the second-largest realm in the Arit empire, for my mother. I had crept past my snoring maids and tutors, stuffed a sack with mangoes, and scaled our mudbrick wall.

The moon hung high above the savannah when the alagbato, the fairy, appeared in my path. The light glinted in his gold-flecked eyes, which slanted all the way to his dark temples. He seized the back of my garment, hoisting me up for examination. I wore a wrapper the color of banana leaves wound several times beneath my arms, leaving my shoulders bare. The alagbato watched me, amused, as I punched and kicked the air.

I'm in bed at Bhekina House, I told myself. My heart pounded like a fist on a goatskin drum. I bit my cheek to prove I was dreaming. I'm wrapped in gauzy mosquito nets and the servants are fanning me with palm fronds. I can smell breakfast in the kitchens. Maize porridge. Stewed matemba fish ...

But my cheek began to throb. I was not in bed. I was lost in the balmy Swanian grasslands, and this man was made of flames.

"Hello, Tarisai." His Sahara breath warmed my beaded braids. "Just where do you think you're going?"

"How do you know my name?" I demanded. Were alagbatos all-knowing, like Am the Storyteller?

"I am the one who gave it to you."

I was too angry to absorb this reply. Did he have to be so bright? Even his hair shimmered, a luminous thicket around his narrow face. If our compound guards spotted him ...

I sighed. I had barely made it a mile into the savannah. Capture now would be humiliating. My tutors would lock me up again—and this time, every window in Bhekina House would be nailed shut.

"I'm not allowed to be touched," I snapped, clawing at the alagbato's grip. His skin felt smooth and hot, like clay left to harden in the sun.

"Not allowed? You are small enough to be carried. I am told human children need affection."

"Well, I'm not human," I shot back in triumph. "So put me down." "Who told you that, little girl?"

"No one," I admitted after a pause. "But they all say it behind my back.

I'm not like other children."

This was possibly a lie. The truth was, I'd never seen other children, except in the market caravans that passed Bhekina House from a distance. I would wave from my window until my arms grew sore, but they never waved back. The children would stare straight past me, as if our compound—manor, orchard, and houses enough to make a small village—were invisible to anyone outside.

"Yes," the alagbato agreed grimly. "You are different. Would you like to see your mother, Tarisai?"

I stopped resisting at once, and my limbs hung limp as vines. "Do you know where she is?"

My mother was like morning mist: here, then gone, vanished in clouds of jasmine. My tutors bowed superstitiously whenever they passed her wood carving in my study. They called her The Lady. I delighted in our resemblance: the same high cheekbones, full lips, and fathomless black eyes. Her carving watched as my study brimmed with scholars from sunup to moonrise.

Excerpted from Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko. Copyright © 2020 by Jordan Ifueko. Excerpted by permission of Amulet Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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