BookBrowse Reviews Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko

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Raybearer

by Jordan Ifueko

Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko X
Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Aug 2020, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2021, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Michelle Anya Anjirbag
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A breathtaking and innovative YA fantasy debut about loyalty and power set in a remarkably original new world.

Sixteen-year-old Tarasai has never known anything outside of her tutors; the compound of Bhekina House; the Swana Grasslands (one of the 12 realms of the empire of Aritsar); and The Lady, her mysterious mother who is away more than she is around. Her father Melu, whom she has met only once, is an alagbato — one of the guardians of Swana. She is lonely, craving love, or simply human contact. In Bhekina House, The Lady has forbidden anyone to touch Tarasai, as she has a special gift that allows her to see other people's memories when she touches them. Her life is full of lessons in language and history, though she's unsure what she is preparing for. All she knows is that whenever The Lady appears to test her, she is found lacking.

But suddenly, Tarasai is sent away by The Lady to the capital of Aritsar to compete with other children vying to become one of Crown Prince Ekundayo's Council of Eleven. Every member of the council must have a Hallow, a special gift like hers, and every member must also love the Crown Prince so that they can bond with him through something known as the Ray. Together, the Council of Eleven and the Emperor — the Raybearer — rule the empire of Aritsar.

Tarasai's new life away from Bhekina House opens up her world in many ways. For the first time she has a chance at the family she has always craved; yet she learns that life is far more complicated than she previously believed, and some things cannot be taught. As she embarks on her journey across the 12 realms of Aritsar, Tarasai's view of the world, the empire she is to help rule, and even her own history, change, and her desires begin to clash with The Lady's commands. Tarasai — and the reader — grapple with the pull between destiny and free will, and the question of whether one person might truly be able to change the world.

In Raybearer, Jordan Ifueko opens the genre of fantasy further, stepping beyond old tropes and stories of power struggles to present something new. She proves that fantasy can be simultaneously diverse, political, and filled with wonder, and in dialogue with more than just one tradition. It's a development that the genre has desperately needed for a long time. She also proves that it's possible to explore the themes of imperialism and colonialism in fantasy without alienating readers and in a way that proffers a new kind of solution at the end, where new potential worlds can be envisioned. Readers who have already explored the worlds crafted by authors such as Tomi Adeyemi and Tamora Pierce will love Raybearer and eagerly await Ifueko's next venture, whether set in Aritsar or another world altogether.

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in August 2020, and has been updated for the August 2021 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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