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Raybearer, Jordan Ifueko

January 18, 2021

I read Jordan Ifueko’s Raybearer after seeing what Jenny said about it at Reading the End, and agree with her that it’s a great new fantasy novel with really interesting characters and world-building. The main character, Tarisai, has an unconventional upbringing–she is fathered by a djinn. She travels to the capital to become one of the prince’s council and help rule the land. This is complicated by the fact that her mother has primed her and sent her off to kill the prince, a fate she is only barely able to resist. So the novel plays with the conventions of the “chosen” and of hereditary rule, mostly through the metaphor of the magical “ray,” which is like charisma but much more literal.

The story Tarisai’s father tells her includes the meaning of the name he gave her: “it is a Swana name: behold what is coming.” She learns that she herself is her mother’s third wish, as yet ungranted, and says “my mother was the devil, and I, her puppet demon.”

The story Tarisai learns about the council is that they have to be together and with the Prince, because “when you’re anointed, the Ray binds your body to the council. So if you ever get separated—or abandon the council—you get sick. Sweating, fever. Eventually you go mad.” She decides that “maybe all love was a bit like council sickness.”

For love of the prince, Dayo, Tarisai forgets everything she has known in order to be able to forget her mother’s compulsion to murder him. But when she is tricked into remembering and has lured Dayo to a remote spot in order to stab him, she wakes to herself again:
“Every hair on my neck rose as I registered the person in my arms.
‘No.’ I said. A scream worked its way up my throat, but came out as a croak. ‘No. It’s not—you’re not—Stay awake, Dayo! It’s over now. I’m back. I’d never let anything hurt you; I wouldn’t—Damn it, damn it.’ I sobbed, pawing his face. I didn’t dare touch the knife.
He watched me hyperventilate. “You remembered,’ he said.
‘Don’t talk. Rest, I’ll get help.’ His words didn’t make sense. My tears were a torrent; my ribs shuddered with each breath.
‘You missed my heart.’ He smiled, voice gurgling with blood. ‘That means you’re stronger than her, Tar.’”

Tarisai does prove to be stronger than her mother, stronger than anyone who tried to wind her up and set her in motion would have expected. She investigates the mysteries she discovers and in the process develops skills that serve her well as a leader. I especially liked the part where she uses the library and describes the current process for getting in, as it’s part of the novel’s running commentary on how everyone in the empire should learn more about their country and their rulers:
“Every family in the empire received library ribbons after paying the imperial tax. Scholar-class ribbons were black, good for five visits a week. Noble-class ribbons were blue, and good for three. Gray-ticketed merchants and peasants were allowed one visit a month. When I flashed my seal, the guards waved me in without a word. There was no limit on knowledge for an Anointed One.”

In addition to learning how to care about others as she grows up in the embrace of fellow council members, Tarisai also has to break away and learn as a young adult what good rulers must know–how to care for people who are nothing like her and whose motives she may not be able to understand. In the end she can even extend that care to her own mother, whose motives have become clear to Tarisai and the reader. When she spares her mother’s life against the orders of an unjust ruler, Olugbade (Dayo’s father), she takes her first steps towards saving the empire. There’s a moment with contemporary resonance after this incident:
“Olugbade’s pride had trapped him. He should have murdered The Lady in private, trying every form of mortal death until he found one that worked. No one would have seen his failed attempts. No one would have guessed at The Lady’s power.
But my First Ruling had made Olugbade rash. Like a snake gripping a branch in flood season, he clung to his belief in The Lady’s illegitimacy. By insisting on this public execution, he had trapped himself.”

There’s some minor necromancy in this novel—Tarisai even summons her mother (“The Lady”) at the end, for some extra closure. She doesn’t sacrifice anything very important to do it, however, so the price is not great, although neither is the information she receives from beyond the veil. She already knows what she doesn’t say to her mother’s spirit, that “I am not the sequel of your story,” rejecting her mother’s only name for her, “Made-of-Me.”

It’s Tarisai’s fantastic journey from her childhood home and the steps of her growing ability to resist her mother’s plans that make this a good Young Adult novel, although older readers will enjoy it too. After all, no matter how old you are, is there anyone who doesn’t occasionally still have to struggle against the vision of your self that was planted in your own mind by a parent?

10 Comments leave one →
  1. January 18, 2021 4:06 pm

    I just finished reading this a week or so ago and really enjoyed it! I’m looking forward to the next in the series.

    • January 20, 2021 1:27 pm

      I don’t know if I’ll read the next one; this one ended so well, and so completely.

  2. January 18, 2021 4:44 pm

    Your question, if I‘m struggling: no, I don’t and never did. I‘ve been glad that my parents didn’t define my dreams for me. Maybe I‘m lucky and one of a few, but here I am.

    • January 20, 2021 1:29 pm

      I guess some parents are able to be less intrusive than others, and some kids are more impressionable. I think you are smart and lucky.

  3. January 18, 2021 4:44 pm

    I keep hearing about this book around the blogosphere! The cover is gorgeous and the story sounds very intriguing!

    • January 20, 2021 1:29 pm

      It’s a good story. All the details of the plot come together in a very satisfying way.

  4. January 19, 2021 10:32 am

    I loved this one too and am really looking forward to the sequel!

    • January 20, 2021 1:30 pm

      As I said above, I may read the sequel, but think that one of the good things about the book is how complete the ending feels.

  5. January 19, 2021 7:23 pm

    Oh yay, I’m so glad you enjoyed this! Yeah, the worldbuilding is so thorough and gorgeous; it has made me really excited to get more books from this author.

    • January 20, 2021 1:32 pm

      I always like it when a world is built on bits from myths and legends from my world, and this book certainly does that well.

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