A young Black girl with a glowing afro and white dots painted on her face stares proudly at the reader from a glowing circle with rays of light beam out of it separating colorful patterns.

About the Book

Title: Raybearer (Raybearer #1)
Published: 2020
Series: Raybearer
Swoonworthy Scale: 5

Cover Story: Fine 
BFF Charm: Yay 
Talky Talk: Immersive 
Bonus Factors: West African Culture, Redemptors 
Anti-Bonus Factor: Dan Scott Award for Awful Parenting, Misogyny 
Relationship Status: Shine On Me 

Cover Story: Fine 

I love the illustration of Tarisai and her hairstyle/jewelry (it feels like it was pulled right from a certain part of the book, which is always neat to see that the artist/publisher paid enough attention to get that level of detail!). After reading the book, I am guessing that the different colored sections surrounding Tarisai are supposed to represent the different lands of Aritsar, which, again, good detail. It’s eye-catching, like a kaleidoscope, but that also makes it a bit hard to look at without everything jumbling together.  

This book has a lot of crossover appeal, as I saw it being discussed quite a bit on TikTok along with more Adult fantasies with a much more subdued cover, and it took me longer than I care to admit to realize it was the same exact book. I don’t know if I love either cover, but I do prefer the beautiful image of Tarisai’s face.  

The Deal:  

When Tarisai is young, she learns that she is quite literally the product of her mother’s insatiable desire to rule. She was given everything a young woman could need (except unconditional love), so that when she’s dropped off at the imperial palace to vie for one of eleven spots on young, emperor-to-be Dayo’s Council, Tarisai is the smartest and sharpest and quickly wins over who she needs to. But despite her mother’s wishes, she’s not in this for the lure of power—she’s in it for the promise of a family that will never leave, and the support that she would receive from Dayo and the other future Council members. 

Unfortunately, things are never that simple, because The Lady’s ultimate goal for Tarisai is not just to earn her place on the Council, but to do so and then kill Dayo, thus ending the rule of the Kunleo line forever.  

BFF Charm: Yay 

Yay BFF Charm

You can’t help but feel for Tarisai as she grows up a smart but sheltered child, and empathize with her excitement and dread as she is drawn into the competition to be Dayo’s protector. Her naivety about others’ intentions or the harsh truths of life as she grew older sometimes rankled, but I had to remind myself that even in the Children’s Palace she’s still being coddled and indoctrinated, just in a different way. Sometimes I wanted to shake her shoulders when she refused to confide in other people, but it’s not like she was taught healthy coping strategies. What mattered most is what she did once she learned those hard truths, and I think she eventually handled herself beautifully.  

Swoonworthy Scale:

I don’t want to spoil anything, as this is the kind of tale where relationships unfold gradually and I had no idea where it was going to go. Things are sweet in a young-love kind of way, but romance isn’t the main focus of the story. 

Talky Talk: Immersive 

I really loved Jordan Ifueko’s writing and the world she built for us. It’s fantasy with a West African flair, and, like any good fantasy, it’s about good and evil and the shades of gray between. There are the politics of running a land that’s been forcibly drawn together by magic and one man’s will, plus the potential fallout of these cultures blending together (or not), even hundreds of years later. The magic system is not entirely unfamiliar (gods and goddesses based on the elements, sprites and demons, some people being born with a Hallow, AKA a special magical ability) but Ifueko imbues her own elements to make it unique, like the Raybearer and his council’s codependent magic and the rules in which her magic system is constrained by.  

There’s plenty of time to get to know Tarisai as a character, though the plot moves along at a brisk pace as we visit many different moments in her life. Even with all the jumping around and world-building and secrets unfolding, I never felt lost or left behind. I fell in love with so many elements of the story and can’t wait to read what comes next.  

Bonus Factor: West African Culture 

The Eastern Hemisphere on a globe, including Africa, Europe and Asia

I already espoused my love of Aritsar above, but you don’t always get such a fully-realized fantasy setting without some gaps here and there. Yet everything felt lived-in and layered, and I think a lot of that had to do with the real-world elements Ifueko weaved in. The griots with their celebration and continuation of storytelling is an important element of the plot. I loved the little moments like the braiding party and the descriptions of the beautiful wrappers that people wore to represent the different cultures that made up Aritsar.    

Bonus Factor: Redemptors 

A cartoon cave lined with bones

The Redemptor children are marked for sacrifice to the abiku (demons) of the Underworld, but what’s interesting is that while they are “sacrificed”, they are not being put to death instantly. They enter the Underworld alive, with the maps tattooed on their skin, and it’s rare, but if they can survive the journey, they win their freedom and are able to come back to Aritsar.  

Anti-Bonus Factor: Dan Scott Award for Awful Parenting 

Evil Dan Scott from One Tree Hill

The Lady is rarely around as Tarisai grows up, meting out her love when she does sweep in for brief hellos and a reminder that Tarisai isn’t her own person, but her “Made-of-me”. Her daughter’s entire existence is to fulfill The Lady’s wish to kill Olugbade’s son, Dayo, which, ya know, may not be the WORST reason to have a child, but it’s certainly Top 5.  

Anti-Bonus Factor: Misogyny 

No symbol over image of raised fists in different skin tones wearing nail polish

Sigh. The patriarchy really just loves to polish turds and present them with a smile as fine jewels, doesn’t it?  

Relationship Status: Shine On Me 

It’s a big commitment to partake in your Ray, Book, but you’ve shown your heart is true. So if you were to ask if I love you and would join you, I think I’d have to say yes. 

Literary Matchmaking

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin (A Song of Wraiths and Ruin #1)

With the competition aspect, someone secretly plotting to kill someone else, and the magical settings, these books on the surface may seem similar, but you will get a very different story in Roseanne A. Brown’s A Song of Wraiths and Ruin.

The Gilded Ones (Deathless #1)

Read on if you want more half-magical characters trying to decide their own fates with The Gilded Ones (Deathless #1) by Namina Forna.

Akata Witch (Akata Witch #1)

Akata Witch (Akata Witch #1) by Nnedi Okorafor skews a bit younger but it’s all about another young girl who just wants to find something to belong to.

FTC Full Disclosure: I purchased my own copy of this book. I received neither money nor peanut butter cups in exchange for this review. Raybearer is available now.  

Stephanie (she/her) is an avid reader who moonlights at a college and calls Orlando home. Stephanie loves watching television, reading DIY blogs, planning awesome parties, Halloween decorating, and playing live-action escape games.