“I am Tarisai of Swana and I’ve seen your stories now. They belong to me, as mine belong to you. You don’t have to help me change the world. But you mark my words; when I get going, this world will change. And you can be a part of that… or you can stand back and watch.”
Notice: I received a free eARC of this book from Netgalley via Hear Our Voices Book Tours in exchange for a review.
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? With extraordinary world-building and breathtaking prose, Raybearer is the story of loyalty, fate, and the lengths we’re willing to go for the ones we love.
I’ve read very few books with the capacity to transport me into a fictional world as wholly as Raybearer did. In her acknowledgements, Jordan Ifueko stated that Raybearer had been in the making for over twelve years. For twelve years, she and her team fought for this book’s existence, and I have never felt so proud and thankful for such resilience.
Raybearer is a deeply emotional fantasy inspired by West African mythology. It tells the story of our attention-starved protagonist, Tarasai (pronounced Tar-Ree-Sigh), who longs for belonging. Her actions are compelled by a wicked mother figure, known as The Lady, whose presence in the book is more mental than it is physical. Throughout the book, Tarasai and the anointed council of 11 other children are training to one day rise and transition to become the leaders of the Arit Empire.
Aritsar is comprised of twelve realms with diverse peoples, traditions, dialects, and trade items. The most entrancing part of this book is how seamlessly you learn about the different realms as you follow Tarasai’s journey. When new characters are introduced, there is always something that Tarasai recognizes that is indicative of what land they are from (accents, body markings, scents, etc). This method of world-building gives attention to all five senses, making the reading experience immersive and engaging.
I have a deep appreciation for how present and potent the mythos are in this book. I was completely awed by how the mythos and fantastical elements played so nicely together to make the rich history of Aritsar. The deeply ingrained customs and traditions of the Arit Empire were informed by ancient systems that affect nearly every aspect of the story. It was simply beautiful to witness Tarasai learning about these customs and choosing to challenge them for a better future.
An honest note from me is the story ARC of Raybearer is one that may confuse you for a time. Highlighting and making notes of connections is a friend of yours if you want to really appreciate the amount of work that went into this world and the major plot points. The plot is multi-dimensional (literally) and involves travel and sacrifice. (I promise you, it’ll be worth it).
In all, Raybearer features a plethora of allegorical plot points. Without making my review a mile long, I’m ending this review with a list of some that I found were really important to the story and could make for great discussion posts.
⇨ Struggling to come to terms with asexuality/societal pressures to engage in sexual behavior
⇨ Parental manipulation/abandonment
⇨ The idea that a child’s purpose is to fulfill a parent’s lost dreams
⇨ The idea that unity is more important than celebrating differences
⇨ The importance of platonic love and feeling like you belong
⇨ Challenging the status quo of society
If I had to describe this book in one word, it would simply be masterful. Do not miss this one.
Here are some extras for my host day on the Raybearer blog tour via Hear Our Voices Tours!
“For the rest of my life, I wished the universe had given me a sign then. A warning of what was about to happen.”
“You write your story, not the people who came before you.”
“‘You’re going to be another one, aren’t you?’ The prince murmured. ‘A person I like. A person they take away.'”
“His eyes, I noticed, were the color of long-steeped almond tea.”
“Outcasts only have ourselves.”
“You were well-named, Behold What is Coming.”
“Uniformity is not unity. Silence is not peace.”
“You didn’t make me who I am. I am not the sequel of your story.”
Check out ALL of the hosts for the Raybearer blog tour here!