Tarisai, who has the magical gift of being able to perceive the memories of objects and people, has always lived a sheltered life in her mother’s large house. She rarely sees her mysterious mother and is taken care of by unfriendly servants and tutors who are rigorously educating her for some unknown task. Lonely, Tarisai longs for companionship, travel, freedom, and a sense of purpose.
When she is 11 years old, without any explanation, Tarisai’s mother sends her to the capital to compete to be one of the crown prince’s 11 counselors. If she is chosen, she will live with the other young counselors and the Prince for the rest of her life, as they rule their country together through a magical bond called the Ray. However, Tarisai’s mother, who wants revenge for something the royal family did to her years ago, has placed a geas on Tarisai — as soon as Tarisai is sworn in as one of the counselors, she will involuntarily murder the Prince.
When Tarisai gets to the capital, she is exposed to other children for the first time in her life. She has a lot to learn about how to interact with other people, her country’s government, her own mother and, of course, herself. She must decide who to be loyal to, her mother or the prince, but she’s not certain if she even has free will at all.
Raybearer (2020), Jordan Ifueko’s debut novel, is a finalist for both the Andre Norton (Nebula) and Lodestar (Hugo) Awards this year, and we agree that it deserves that spot. It’s an enchanting African-inspired fantasy with rich world building and an exciting and emotionally intense plot. The characters are complex, from the lovable prince to the ostensibly evil ones who would see the prince dead. The worldbuilding is especially notable, as Ifueko has drawn a complicated world full of political danger. And while the novel is inspired by Africa, it should be noted that there are many cultures represented here, though that is apparent primarily through naming conventions.
Much of the emotional drama comes from Tarisai’s struggle to be loyal to both the young prince, Dayo, and her mother, whom she loves despite her neglect. Her friend Sanjit is also dealing with childhood trauma. He’s a large strong boy whose hatred for his own body and martial skills comes from the abuse he suffered before arriving at the palace. Though he’s safe there, he still worries about loved ones he left behind. Another friend is shaken when she realizes that her mother’s wisdom, which she cherished, might not be as informed as she once thought. And the crown prince, though surrounded by people who love him, is desperately lonely. Ifueko made us feel these children’s pain and we were rooting for them to overcome the bad hands they’d been dealt.
Another source of strife in Tarisai’s world comes from the laws and treaties imposed by the palace she serves onto outlying kingdoms who are required to serve the empire but have little power to influence policy. Tarisai is conflicted about this and, again, feels her loyalties tested. It is this friction that will be dealt with when Tarisai’s story continues in Redemptor which will be released in August. We look forward to seeing what happens next!
Kat listened to the audio version of Raybearer which was produced by Blackstone Publishing and beautifully narrated by Joniece Abbott-Pratt whose voice is perfect for Tarisai.
It’s already on my list!
Let us know what you think, Zina! We hope you like it as much as we did!
i sure will. =)
I loved this one last year and I’m so happy to see it on award lists this year.
Several people have recommended this now. I’ll have to order it!