Book Review: Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko

Book Review: Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko

Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve never read anything quite like Raybearer. From the world building to the plot to the characters, it felt wholly unique from any other fantasy story I’ve experienced. And it was beautiful. Powerful. Fierce. I can’t believe this was a debut novel. I’m honestly in awe.

Tarisai grew up in Swana in a gilded cage, given all of the privileges of royalty while always remaining trapped and alone, apart from her tutors and servants, all of whom feared her. Her Hallow, or magical power with which she was born, is an ability to see memories carried by any object or person she touches. She longed for her mother, known only as The Lady, to truly see her, and to love her. Instead, The Lady has raised Tarisai to be a weapon, to get to close the Crown Prince of Aritsar, infiltrate his Council of Eleven, and kill him when she loves him most. Under this curse, Tarisai finds herself thrust into a world unlike any she could have imagined, trying desperately to guard the family she’s always craved against the most insidious enemy of all: herself.

I found Tarisai an absolutely fascinating character. Her struggle against herself, her naturing warring against her nurture, makes her incredibly sympathetic. I love the way she sees the world, and I love the friends she makes. I was especially taken with Sanjeet and Kirah, the member’s the of the Council of Eleven with whom Tar is the closest, as well as Dayo, the Crown Prince and Raybearer to whom the Council is bound. Sanjeet is a giant of a Dhyrmish boy who wants to use his Hallow, which lets him see the weaknesses and injuries in anyone he meets, to heal. Instead, he’s been trained to kill. Kirah is a Blessid girl, whose Hallow allows her to heal with songs.

Dayo is so unlike his father, sweet and good and loving. He’s a Raybearer, who is strengthened by his Council to be unkillable by anything but old age — or by the hand of one of his Council. Each Emperor of Aritsar is a Raybearer is gifted this near immortality through their magical bond with their chosen Council. Council members have to love their Raybearer with their whole heart in order to become one with their Emperor’s Ray. Through this Ray, all of the Council siblings can share thoughts and feelings. It’s a bond closer than blood, so much so that, once you are part of a Council, you must tay close to your Council siblings or suffer a debilitating Council sickness. I adore found family tropes, and this is one of the most unique approaches to that I’ve come across. There must be one Council member from each of the 11 realms of Aritsar. There’s one other realm, Songland, but it is not considered part of the Empire and is cursed.

Each member of the Council must have one of the aforementioned Hallows, and I found them simply lovely in their variety. No Hallow is exactly the same as someone else’s. That’s one of the things that made the magic in this book so unique. There’s no set system. It’s wild, and give out as the deity of this world, Am the Storyteller, deems fit. This made for one of the most interesting and unique fantasy worlds I’ve ever visited.

One of my favorite things about this story is the emphasis on embracing who you are, and all of the facets that make you that person. In this story, cultural identity is incredibly important. Each of the twelve realms of Aritsar has a strong cultural identity, displayed in the songs they sing and the drums they play and the patterns and cloth they wear. When the Empire decides to push hard for unity, the first thing they do is try to suppress and destroy all of these expressions of identity, burning drums and songs and fabrics and doling out more uniform replacements. There’s a line from later in the book that I found powerful: “Uniformity is not unity. Silence is not peace.” We are the most united when we embrace our differences instead of trying to erase them.

I loved everything about this book. The world was unlike any other I’ve read. The characters stole my heart. It’s been a long time since I loved a protagonist so completely as I did Tarisai. The writing was perfect for the story being told, lyrical without the prose ever supplanting the plot. It’s a powerful tale of justice and loyalty and identity, and I can’t wait to see how the story ends in Redemptor, the second book of the duology.

View all my reviews

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *