Jordan Ifueko builds a solid foundation for the reader before delving into the thick of it. First we meet a lonely child with a mysterious power and an even more mysterious lineage. We see her rigorous training and find out the sinister purpose, all within the first two chapters. We quickly learn the lay of the land, meeting children from every part of the country, most black but several of European and Asian ancestry. Then we learn of the magic permeating their world and the politics that govern the country. In a few short chapters we know what kind of world Raybearer takes place in and how it works. And most importantly, we know of the sinister plot that our heroine must overcome.
Raybearer is a tale of love, loyalty and destiny. Tarisai is a young girl raised in seclusion. Sequestered from the world her whole life, she is raised by a never ending hoard of tutors. She lives for the infrequent snippets of time she gets to spend with her mother, known only as The Lady, who is preparing her for a mysterious task. Tarisai craves these rare moments of affection because everyone else is forbidden to touch her due to her Hallow, the power to view the memories of anyone she touches. On her 11th birthday Tarisai’s life is changed forever. The Lady commands her daughter to kill the crown prince, giving the child no choice since she is half ehru. Then she is whisked away to her destiny.
At An-Ileyoba Tarisai befriends a girl named Kirah and learns more about why she’s been sent there. After a tense meeting with the emperor and his council, she’s allowed to live at the children’s palace where she meets Prince Ekundayo, and later Sanjeet. In her first meeting with the prince, Tarisai manages to suppress her murderous instinct. The years go by and she grows closer to the prince and her two new friends, and after saving the prince from a fire, she reluctantly joins the prince’s council. But before she does she erases her memories to avoid carrying out her mission.
Later at a ceremony Tarisai receives a special drum as a gift and she meets a Redeptor child who thinks Tarisai will save her. Unfortunately the demons come to claim her. At a festival she and Sanjeet reveal their feelings for each other, but before they can get together she’s ambushed by her mother and tricked into drinking special water that restores her memories. With her memories back Tarisai is compelled to kill the prince. She attacks him, but fortunately fails to kill him. Sanjeet discovers them and his love turns to hate. Kirah manages to save the prince.
In an effort to atone for her treachery, Tarisai and Sanjeet travel to Swana so she can seek her father’s help. He advises her to find her true purpose to overcome her curse and her reveals The Lady’s true identity. He also reveals that there are two missing masks, one for an empress and a princess. Armed with this new knowledge Tarisai, Woo-In and Kathleen search Bhekina house for clues but find none. She reluctantly returns to the palace where she must prepare to make her first ruling and sentence her mother to death.
She defies the emperor and rules on a different case instead. Afterward she finds the two masks, hidden in plain sight. Enraged at Tarisai’s defiance, the emperor sentences The Lady, his own sister, to death and attempts to figure out how to kill her. She outsmarts him and convinces one of his own council to kill him. Woo-In arrives and unwittingly slashes the lady with a poisoned blade, and as one of her council, kills her. He flees taking Tarisai with him back to the mountains of Songland. There she meets more receptor children and is reunited with Ye Eun, the girl from the ceremony. Woo-In takes her to the heart of the mountain and she discovers the real reason why all redemptors, children born with blue markings who must journey to the underworld, are born in Songland. The first Raybearer made a deal to join with every nation except Songland, and spill his blood in a ritual to renew the receptor magic.
She makes the dangerous journey through 26 lodestones back to the capital to stop the prince, now emperor from completing the unfair ritual. she arrives just in time and makes a new deal, offering herself, an empress and raybearer instead of the redemptor children. The demons accept on the condition that she join rulers from each realm to her ray first. They give her two years to prepare.
What initially drew me to this book was the cover. It’s bright, colorful and smack dab in the middle there’s a dark skinned black girl with a glorious crown of glowing kinky hair. Absolutely stunning.
One thing that set this book apart from its contemporaries is how the mythology was revealed. In having a main character who grew up in seclusion, the reader was able to share in the experience of seeing and doing things for the first time. Tarisai had a fresh new perspective on everything, so instead of tedious info dumps scattered throughout the book, we were given vibrant descriptions delivered through lush prose and well executed dialogue. Her journey from Bhekina house to the children’s palace and everything she saw there would’ve of been boring if it had been narrated by a character who’d made the trip several times before instead of by Tarisai.
The rich history and folklore of Aritsar is yet another example Ifueko’s captivating world building. From the beginning we are told about the various religions, mythology and the history of the monarchy. So, when each of these things come into or are challenged, it’s nothing new.
Raybearer has an interesting magic system and I love how it’s integrated into everything from the government to transportation. It’s present everywhere without it being overwhelming. Some people are born with abilities called Hallows. Tarisai can take and give memories, Sanjeet can see physical weakness, Kirah can heal by singing, just to name a few. Hallowed children may train to become part of the prince’s council and accept the ray. The Raybearer has the ability to to join eleven people to him both mentally and physically. Once joined they cannot be apart or they become violently ill, and the Raybearer become immune to eleven causes of death. No one can kill him accept his eleven.
One of the best parts of this book is the love between Tarisai and Sanjeet. They met as children when she unchained him at the children’s palace. Sanjeet had been used and mistreated all his life, because of his size, strength and his Hallow, yet Tarisai could see the good in him. He was one of the first people who really appreciated and respected her Hallow, and he was the first to have a clue about who she really is. Their love was so pure, yet it was complicated. Tarisai had a huge secret and they were both loyal to their prince. They denied themselves the love they both so desperately craved.
Tarisai and Sanjeet go through to biggest changes throughout the book. Tarisai is just an innocent child at the beginning but she faces many obstacles and is a much more confident person by the end. Sanjeet goes from a brooding loner to a brooding leader. I guess his changes weren’t as major. Other characters didn’t change much, but thankfully there’s a sequel coming so maybe they’ll get their time to shine.
I didn’t have many dislikes but there are a couple things that I hope will be adressed in Redemptor. First, I wish I could’ve seen the Dayo’s council use their powers a little more. We mostly see Tarisai, Sanjeet and Kirah using their power, but not the rest of the council. We know they have powers, and we’ve heard them described but we haven’t seen them in use. Also, I’m curious why only some people have powers. It seems to be random, but why?
Tarisai’s quest to defy her mother’s wish was a very compelling plot, but the redemptor plot set the stage for the next book. Redemptors are children who must travel to the underworld because of an ancient treaty. Originally these children were born all over the realm, but for the past few hundred years they’ve been born exclusively in Songland. Tarisai learns the reason why and pledges to end it altogether. Im sure the next book will be just as amazing as this one.
Overall I rate this book 5 stars. I would 100% recommend this book to fans of fantasy, books featuring strong women, and fans of diverse fantasy lands with rich history and folklore.