Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Year Release: 2020
Source: Library audiobook
|Listened to the audiobook
Content warnings: Parental emotional abuse, blood magic, child death
Having to pause this book as I was listening to it brought me a reader’s pain that I hadn’t felt in a while. In this West-African-inspired fantasy, Tarisai has been sent to the capital by her absent mother, the Lady, to join the prince’s Council of 11 and kill him once she gains his trust.
The world of this novel feels so lived in. There are glimpses and snippets of all twelve nations within the Aritsar empire. Their shared histories make them feel like characters. The craft that went into highlighting and exploring generational grievances and traumas, connecting them to the choices the characters have to make as part of their own arcs.
Throughout the story, Tarisai navigates friendships and first loves in a political setting. Watching her try to wrangle her agency and identity from the task assigned her by her manipulative mother. The way her relationship (or lack there of) with her mother was handled with all its complexities. My heart ached for Tarisai because all she wanted was a family. Most of the emotional journey of this book is watching her navigate her found family versus her legacy. It’s an emotional and a very interior journey which shine through the action and magic through all the big events and major plot points.
In addition, magic plays a very big role. The king and his council, as well as the prince and his council, are all connected by the Ray. It causes sickness when council members are too far apart, and allows them to communicate across great distances otherwise. Moreover, each member represents a way the Raybearer can die. The way this weaves through the plot is masterful and never feels like a deus ex machina, especially during pivotal decision points both for Tarisai and Aritsar as a whole.
Speaking of relationships, the way this made-family comes together for each other. There is so much compassion among them all, even throughout betrayals and misunderstandings. The love triangle is also impeccably set-up, providing two possible avenues of Tarisai’s choices. You’ll have to read the book for yourself to see how those play out.
In terms of other delights, the storytelling traditions featured throughout include songs and new-to-me sounds. The audiobook narrator clearly had fun bringing these to life throughout my listening experience—I highly recommend listening-as-reading.
Raybearer is an ownvoices Black fantasy with impeccable plot twists and complex characters, an utter delight from start to finish.