Author: Jordan Ifueko
Nothing is more important than loyalty.
But what if you’ve sworn to protect the one you were born to destroy?
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.
Raybearer is the first novel in the duology of the same name. I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of the sequel, Redemptor, from the publisher, so I automatically knew I wanted to read this novel first. This novel was extremely impressive for being the author’s debut. There are an excellent cast of characters in an imaginative world filled with fantasy elements and political obstacles. There are kingdoms trying to find peace between them and the threat of a common enemy that kept the story moving at a fast pace. While having many tropes that I love, the author creates an incredibly unique tale that captivated me from start to finish.
In the empire of Aristar, there lies twelve kingdoms ruled by their own royalty (kings/queens). The High Emperor of Aristar, Olugbade Kuneo, who also serves as King of Oluwan, rules the entire kingdom. Each High Emperor is known as a Raybearer, where they have their own Council of Eleven that are bonded together and serve the empire in their own roles. When the emperor’s children come of age, they hold their own “tournaments” to select their own council. Now that Crown Prince Ekundayo, heir to the imperial throne is eleven, it is his time for children from each kingdom to compete to become a member of his council. The novel surrounds one of the competitors, Tarisai of Swana, the second-largest realm in the Arit Empire. Eleven-year-old Tarisai is not like the other competitors as she was sent there by her mother, The Lady, to not only become a member of the council, but to kill the prince.
All of the characters in this story were amazing, even those in the background. They were all incredibly complex and I loved their relationships with each other. While there is a romance element to the story, it is not an expected one. The romance makes a lot of sense for the characters involved and does not feel forced in any way. Although I love romances in stories, the standout is the friendships and found family. Dayo, Tarisai, Kirah, and Sanjeet are an amazing team and I am looking forward to learning more about their interactions with more of the other characters in the sequel. I understand that there is not enough room to fully go into all of the other competitors, but I still would have loved to learn more about them. The novel starts with the main character at 11 and then progresses until she is 17 by the end. As the story takes place over years, the relationships between all the characters and each of their personalities grow and change naturally over time.
The world building is well described and the magic system with the hallows and ray-“magic” is fascinating. There are many elements for each and they are described well where I walked away from reading at least having a basic understanding. It was refreshing to have a base line where it was satisfying yet there is still room for further exploration in the next novel. There are many West African inspired elements to the story and it was well-integrated into this fantasy world. Multiple songs, legends, and poems are written throughout the novel, which is where I wished I listened to the audiobook as the narrator for this novel gives extra life to the reading. I may actually go back and listen when the next novel becomes an audiobook and do a re-read of both. While I loved these elements and details, there are a lot, which can seem overwhelming, depending on your preferences. For me, there were one of two longer works where I lost interest for a short time, but it did not take away from my overall enjoyment or understanding of the story.
The pacing of this novel is very fast as there are multiple smaller obstacles that are solved and new ones are presented. There is the larger big picture plot that lasts from the entire novel, but the smaller ones do go by fairly fast. Ideally, I would have loved this to be changed to a trilogy instead of a duology. There are enough characters where the first novel could have been the initial set-up of the competition and the selection of Dayo’s Council. The second could have been the latter half of this novel and the third could be the next (As I have not read the next novel, this ratio might alter for the second and third.) The characters have a lot that I want to learn about them, so I would have easily read a more detailed version. Overall, this novel has been widely praised, so I was nervous that it would not live up to my high expectations. I am glad I had nothing to worry about, as this novel was an amazing reading experience. There is a slight cliffhanger at the end of this novel, so I cannot wait to start the next to see what happens next!