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 11. 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?
Raybearer is one of the most unique fantasy books I have ever read, most likely because I have not read a lot of African-inspired fantasy. I am happy to have expanded my reading palette for this book because the plot was really intriguing and I enjoyed the cultural aspects.
I have never really read a plot like this. It is a totally different take on royalty and power. The big theme in this book, in my opinion, is the strength that comes from the collective. It shows up in all aspects of the story, from the Council to the ceremonies to the group chants, and gives off a harmonic vibe which creates an embracing atmosphere that I felt very acutely throughout the book. It was very comforting to read a fantasy that steps out from the standard and creates a world where togetherness and trust is the key to success. In the fantasy book realm, this is often accomplished through acts of war and violence. In Raybearer that same goal is attained through unity and love; and, in 2020, I think we can use more of that.
Do not get me wrong, I am talking about a vanilla utopia, here. The plot has its share of conflict and tension. It is just that the author, Jordan Ifueko, chooses non-traditional fantasy means to solve them. It is also very much a coming-of-age story which is centered around the main protagonist, Tarisai, which is an interesting element that compliments the rest of the narrative well. The book not only embraces the themes of unity, love, and togetherness as power as I mentioned before, but it is written over the backdrop of Tarisai and the rest of the council growing up. I think there is something really inspiring there, in putting easily-influenced young people in a situation where they are surrounding by acceptance and warmth. That is an important message.
Interestingly enough, as I was typing that last paragraph I decided to look up the listed genre/sub-genre of Raybearer, as the term “coming-of-age” always sends my mind in a particular direction. I see that it is listed as “Teen/YA Fantasy”, which I find interesting because I never got that vibe reading it. Looking back I see a few of the tropes and the angst that are typical of YA-style books, they are not overwhelming. I am not an avid YA reader, but this book resonated with me.
One of the best aspects of Raybearer, in my opinion, is how good the writing was in relation to the different settings. Ifueko was so descriptive and everything felt so vibrant that it was a real treat for the senses. I could visualize everything so well, and I found it really easy to get lost in the story that way.
From the interesting characters, intriguing plot, beautiful settings, and contemplative themes, Raybearer was a really good read. It is also one of the few books that truly cannot tell where the second book in the series is going, and I am really looking forward to the surprises that will show up. I recommend this book for all fans of fantasy, and especially those who are looking for something unique.