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Reviewing “Raybearer” by Jordan Ifueko: An Immersive New Fantasy Book Inspired by West African Folklore

Editor’s Note: This article contains minor spoilers for Jordan Ifueko’s novel Raybearer.

Jordan Ifueko’s debut novel, Raybearer, is the latest in a new wave of YA fantasy books set in worlds inspired by West African folklore. These books are a refreshing change for the fantasy genre as, previously, almost all fantasy books took place in Euro-centric worlds. Hopefully, they will also show aspiring writers of color that they can create stories inspired by their birthplace or their parents’ birthplace and still be successful authors.

Synopsis

In Raybearer, the mysterious woman known only as The Lady raised Tarisai in complete isolation. The Lady sends her to Oluwan, the capital of Aritsar, to compete with other children to be in the Crown Prince’s Council of 11. If she gets picked, she’ll join with the other Council members through the Ray, a bond deeper than blood; she can finally have the family she always longed for.

But Tarisai knows that if she becomes anointed, she will have to perform her mother’s wish of killing Dayo, the Crown Prince. She doesn’t want to be The Lady’s puppet, but can she remove this curse and avoid killing her best friend? As she attempts to do this, she learns some of Aritsar’s darkest secrets…

Plot

This plot is excellent. It kept me guessing the whole way through — I love it when I can’t guess the ending of a book. The plot twists are so well done; most of them shocked me, but I liked being able to put the clues together and then be proved right for the ones I saw coming. Although Raybearer is the first in a duology, the ending of this book is brilliant. I love that the arc of one story ends as the next story arc is just beginning, rather than one story arc being told over two books. It left me feeling satiated but still wanting to know what happens to these characters.

My only criticism of the plot is the time jumps. I didn’t mind the big ones when Tarisai jumps in age from 7 to 11 and then 11 to 16, but the small jumps of a few weeks or months felt unnecessary and clunky. They also slowed down the pace of the book.

Characters

The characters are wonderfully dynamic and relatable. I was sympathetic to Tarisai as someone who has experienced loneliness at some points in my life. I loved watching her grow from being a lonely child desperate for her mother’s love into being a fierce young woman who knows how and when to use her voice. Dayo is a complete softie with a heart of gold. However, his asexuality seemed to be a throwaway remark, I hope Ifueko goes deeper into that in Book 2.

Kirah and Sanjeet are among the other prospective candidates for Dayo’s Council. Kirah is filled with love and kindness and that shines through in her Hallow (magical birth gift), which is that she can heal people by singing. Sanjeet puts up a tough exterior because of his traumatic childhood, but on the inside, he is like a teddy bear. He makes a great love interest as well.

It took me a while to fully support the romantic storyline, but by the end, I was rooting for them. Ifueko also writes complex and nuanced villains: at some points, you will hate The Lady with a passion and at others, you will sympathize with her. I could tell that I cared about these characters because at one point I yelled “No Tarisai!” so loud, my parents came to check that I was alright.

Worldbuilding

Ifueko’s worldbuilding is outstanding. Every time I picked up my Kindle, it felt like I was going to Aritsar. This world has its own creation story. The twelve realms of Aritsar are so different, they each have their own culture and griot stories. The magic system is fresh and unique. I love the fact that the Hallows are so wide-ranging and are another way of showing the characters’ strengths and weaknesses. The idea of the Ray is so cool. When the Crown Prince anoints each Council member, he becomes immune to a certain way of dying e.g. suffocation. Once the Council is complete, he is immune to all ways of death except old age or being murdered by a council member. The Council can talk to each other with their minds and become sick when they are away from each other for too long.

In conclusion, Raybearer is incredible. Jordan Ifueko is a fantastic new voice in YA fantasy. I am very excited for Book 2. I highly recommend that you buy this book or borrow it from your local library.

Buy Raybearer in the US here

Buy Raybearer in the UK here

Featured image via Goodreads

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I come from Cardiff, which is in the UK. Writing is one of my greatest passions, I just feel so happy when I'm writing. Camila Cabello and New Hope Club are my favourite artists. Tom Holland would be my favourite actor if he hadn't made me cry so much in Avengers: Infinity War! I am also a strong believer in equal rights for everyone, as I have a physical disability. You can follow me on Instagram @lucyparryyy and on Twitter @Lucy15Parry

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