ADVANCED REVIEW: ‘Raybearer’ Is an Incredible New Story

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Raybearer Cover

Raybearer is a new own voices high-fantasy novel by Jordan Ifueko, audiobook narrated by Joniece Abbott-Pratt, with cover art by Charles Chaisson. Published by Amulet Books with audio publication by Blackstone Publishing. Tarisai lives a very sheltered life in her home of Swana, one of Aritsar’s 12 realms. Growing up with an absent mother known only as The Lady, Tarisai spends her childhood in training to become a member of Crowned Prince Ekundayo’s (Dayo) anointed Council and then, kill him.

From the moment Raybearer begins, it is a gorgeous, fully-realized world full of magic, politics, and mythical beings. The people of Raybearer‘s world have the potential to be born with Hollows, magical abilities such as Tarisai’s power to see people and objects’ memories, or temporarily take them away. The king and prince of Aritsar are also born with a Hollow passed down through their lineage. Their Hollow, the Ray, allows them to anoint 11 others to his council, one from each of Aritsar’s realms. Anointment means sharing a lifelong bond through which each of the 11 and the royal share their emotions, can communicate telepathically, and, in order to stave off Council Sickness, must remain in close physical proximity to at least one other council member at all times.

The member of the royal lineage is born with an immunity to one of the 12 types of death and, for each council member he anoints, he gains one more immunity. Eventually, only old age and betrayal from a council member can kill the royal. To anoint somebody though, that person must love the prince. It is through this shared love among the council and prince that all of Aritsar is ruled and all of Raybearer‘s deep, powerful themes bear fruit.

Raybearer illustrates over and over throughout the book that love can take any number of forms. In fact, the typical sexual/romantic love one would expect between a young adult novel’s two main characters is rendered null early in the story in a scene not completely unproblematic in the language employed. Nonetheless, Tarisai and Dayo’s relationship is much more akin to that of siblings in a found family-esque scenario. Their relationship is rich and the circumstances that bring them together, and threaten to tear them apart, amplify the relationship by full orders of magnitude.

Tarisai and her other council siblings exhibit romantic relationships, best friendships, and other kinds of love just as well. They never feel forced or overly tropey. Many of the relationships, romantic or otherwise, enjoy excellent slow-burn, will they/won’t they natures. Ifueko does well balancing the motivations for the growth of the story’s relationships. Whether growth is egged on by the follies of teenagedom, the allure of power, or Raybearer‘s plot developments, none ever outweighs the others to the point of cliché.

It would be unfair to give away too much detail about Raybearer‘s plot, but know that it is the best I have read so far in 2020. While some aspects may be predictable early on, there is always a slight twist to a thread’s resolution that is simultaneously going to make you say “wow, I totally knew it,” and “oh my god YES!”

Besides excellent characters, relationships, plot, and motivations, the world Raybearer builds is wonderfully alive. Each of Aritsar’s realms and the lands of other peoples beyond the kingdom is distinct and full of life. While not every realm gets a full treatment of imagery and exploration, they nearly all receive personality. Based mostly on West-African and Central and South Asian cultures and locales, Raybearer stands apart from so many of its monolithic fantasy brethren.

I especially love how music and drums are essential to Aritsar’s culture. The entirety of Raybearer is laden with myths, religion, and culture, but the music stands out to me the most. It is perhaps thanks to audiobook narrator Joniece Abbott-Pratt, but every song and drum beat she sings fills the story with more life.

Culture, religion, and myths also play a central role in Raybearer as the novel addresses themes including imperialism, patriarchy, and finding one’s purpose. The way the book addresses these themes through Tarisai’s first-person view as she comes to grips with them herself makes the reader especially empathetic, even if the world beyond her rose-colored view is more clearly tainted to us from the onset.

Raybearer is an amazing new story in a unique, vibrant world. It is filled with excellent characters whose relationships and types of love break the typical YA mold enough to be quite fresh while still coloring within the lines of what YA readers are looking for. While addressing imperialism, patriarchy, and other themes intimate to author Jordan Ifueko’s personal and cultural experience, the novel weaves together an entirely well-imagined world full of myth, culture, religion, and magic.

Raybearer is available on August 18th wherever books are sold.


Raybearer
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TL;DR

Raybearer is an amazing new story in a unique, vibrant world. It is filled with excellent characters whose relationships and types of love break the typical YA mold enough to be quite fresh while still coloring within the lines of what YA readers are looking for. While addressing imperialism, patriarchy, and other themes intimate to author Jordan Ifueko’s personal and cultural experience, the novel weaves together an entirely well-imagined world full of myth, culture, religion, and magic.