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.

Should You Read How to Be Eaten by Maria Adelmann?

How to Be Eaten tells the stories of a variety of fairytale characters from their perspectives, modernized and with some twists. Each one of them is suffering from the trauma of what they’ve experienced as well as from the unwanted media attention. One thing all these women have in common is that their stories are being told for them–and they’re being told very badly.

“The women gather in the YMCA basement rec room: hard linoleum floors, half-windows along one wall, view of sidewalk and brick. It’s a Friday, just after six, and above them the city of New York bustles. Up there, people are teeming out of subway stations and into the hot sun, rushing toward tourist traps, toward restaurants, toward parties and friends.

“Whatever people do on a Friday, the women in the basement are not doing it.”

– Opening of How to Be Eaten

How to Be Eaten tells the stories of a variety of fairytale characters from their perspectives, modernized and with some twists. Each one of them is suffering from the trauma of what they’ve experienced as well as from the unwanted media attention. One thing all these women have in common is that their stories are being told for them–and they’re being told very badly. From victim blaming to sexist assumptions, the worst of society is on display, and the reader is left wondering if these characters will ever be able to find peace.

I sometimes get bored with twisted fairytale plotlines because you can anticipate what’s going to happen, but the clever thing about this book is that it starts with all the characters having already been through the experiences you would know them for, which creates a totally different plot. Combined with the modernization, the inclusion of a character who isn’t from a classic fairytale at all, and the fact that some of the women have names that leave you guessing about the story they’re from all help add to add surprises also. I particularly enjoyed the role reality television plays in the story, as that really added something fresh and hammered home the fact that the problematic stories our culture is telling are not all passed down from the distant past.

Certainly, this book makes no secret about being feminist, so you’re more likely to enjoy it if you enjoy reading the type of book that makes you think about these sorts of topics. You might also enjoy it if you like a book that has a larger cast. In this book, each woman tells her own story in first person, separated and introduced by sections written in third person, which makes for a variety of different voices in the spotlight. It’s largely realistic, with certain aspects of fantasy that are depicted in such a way that many characters aren’t sure whether to believe that these things really happened, so I would also recommend it to people who like just a dash of the impossible to spice things up.

Overall, it is a book that I enjoyed, and I had to force myself to take breaks to absorb everything that I’d just read before going back to my swift page-turning. If you decide to give it a try, I predict you’ll also find it a quick read!

Should You Read The Invisible Library Series by Genevieve Cogman?

“Irene passed the mop across the stone floor in smooth, careful strokes, idly admiring the gleam of wet flagstones in the lantern light. Her back was complaining, but that was only normal after an evening’s work cleaning. The cleaning was certainly necessary. The pupils at Prince Mordred’s Private Academy for Boys managed to get just as much mud and muck on the floor as any other teenagers would. Clean indoor studies in the dark arts, military history, and alchemy didn’t preclude messy outdoor classes in strategic combat, dueling, open field assassination, and rugby.”

– Opening of The Invisible Library

The Invisible Library is the first book in a fantasy series that follows the adventures of a librarian named Irene as she buys, steals, or trades for rare and valuable books across a network of alternate worlds, each one uniquely fantastical and uniquely dangerous. In the first book, she takes on a new apprentice who’s a lot more than what he first appears and faces off against a bitterly hated rival as she tries to solve the mystery of who has stolen the book that she came looking for. Armed with a powerful magical language, she’s able to do amazing things, but the world she’s been sent to is inhabited with beings who have powers of their own. She’s not the only one who wants to get the book, and some of her enemies are willing to kill.

In my opinion, this series doesn’t have the most engaging start, but once it picks up, it really picks up. Every single book is action-packed and has new worlds, new characters, and new dangers to be faced. The characters grow throughout it, and mysteries about them are revealed little by little. It all ties together into a series I couldn’t stop reading until I’d reached the end of the latest book that’s been published and was very disappointed that I would have to wait for the next!

I wish there were a few more character moments or that some of the moments there are would be drawn out a little more, but if you enjoy a plot-based series with lots of action, it doesn’t get much better. I would recommend reading from the beginning, but each book does function as its own little adventure, which I think does a lot to keep things fresh.

This is a series I would definitely recommend to people who love fantasy. It’s deeply enjoyable in that way that makes you turn page after page and always long for more.