Should You Read Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko?

The cover of Raybearer, depicting a young woman wearing earrings, necklace, dots of face paint, and hair braided with gold, which spreads out behind the head to create a halo effect

“I shouldn’t have been surprised that fairies exist.

“When elephants passed by in a lumbering sea beneath my window, flecks of light whispered in the dust, dancing above the rows of tusks and leather. I leaned precariously over the sill, hoping to catch a fleck before a servant wrestled me inside.”

– Opening of Raybearer

Raybearer is a young adult fantasy novel about a young girl (later a teenager) whose mother has been trying to use her to carry out a personal vendetta from the moment she was conceived. Raised in an isolated house with only a rotating cast of servants she’s not allowed to touch and a mother who barely speaks to her on the rare occasions she’s actually present, Tarisai grows up longing for love and human connection. When she’s finally sent away to fulfill her mother’s mysterious wish, she finds a group of friends who become even closer than family, but the shadow of who–and what–she is hangs over her. As a half-djinn, she’s magically compelled to carry out her mother’s wish, even if it means killing someone she’s come to love. And her other half? Try as it might, it can’t escape the growing feeling that continuing to play the role that her new family asks of her is denying her true self. And that, in its own way, could prove just as destructive.

For me, this book is one that got better and better as it went along. At first, I was simply taking note of several features that seem to be popular in the current market for YA fantasy and wondering if I’d spend the entire book feeling down about the awful situation of the main character, but once Tarisai left the house where she was raised, the plot caught my attention for real and made the whole beginning section worth it. I enjoyed the world building, the subversion of certain expectations, and the gradual unfolding of various mysteries about the world, the society, and the characters themselves.

While I don’t generally enjoy books that give the impression that teenagers are or can be more capable than adults when it comes to seemingly everything, I understand that’s generally a staple of young adult fiction in which the protagonist has to be the hero. Apart from that, a few plot elements that seemed a little too convenient, and a few areas that seemed a little lacking in polish, I have nothing to complain about. The book was definitely enjoyable, and I know my standards have been partially shaped by what are considered actual literary masterpieces, so I imagine other readers wouldn’t even notice, wouldn’t even care, or would even disagree with me.

As for who this book appeals to, I think it certainly would appeal to those who like a diverse cast of characters, themes of feminism and empowerment, and a fantasy world not based strictly on the US and/or Europe. I also think it would appeal more broadly to those who enjoy modern YA fantasy with a strong leading character who ends up taking charge of the action. I imagine many teenagers could relate to the main character, and they especially, I think, could feel a powerful connection to this book through stepping into her shoes and experiencing it all as if through their own eyes. If the plot description that I gave above struck a chord with you, give it a read! If you stick through the beginning, I doubt that you’ll be disappointed.

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