Jordan Ifueko’s Raybearer is so much more than the book you initially expect it to be. The synopsis really leads you down a road that expects some very typical elements of a fantasy romance involving a character meant, in the beginning, to kill a target they fall in love with. In an astoundingly impressive way, Raybearer is an incredible story with many intermingling plot elements and commentaries that leaves you with one of the most poignant tales I’ve read in quite some time. This is the kind of novel that has you feeling changed in some ways. And I loved every minute of it.
Threads of the story…
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Raybearer is how it manages to realistically weave in a number of impressive commentaries without ever losing authenticity. By this, I mean that important life struggles and topics such as colonization, inequality of class and race, male-dominated power structures, racism, sexism, privilege, generational trauma, control through fear, and cultural genocide are all blended seamlessly into the work and never once does it feel contrived or preachy.
The complexities of the tale Ifueko is telling are brilliantly written in a way that precious few writers are capable of. She masterfully discusses each one through the eyes of a young woman, Tarisai, who enters the world naive and manipulated and leaves the novel a wisened and gallant legend. Tarisai’s journey alone is brilliantly plotted. You learn alongside her as the events of her life lead to an adventure of truth-seeking and honor.
Put simply, Raybearer is not the fantasy love story I believed I was picking up, but instead an intricate and meaningful novel that fosters the development of knowledge and righteousness. The truth is that there is a lot to unpack from this novel and a great deal to learn from it all.
What is an expert story without expert characters?
Well, Ifueko has an impressively written story as far as plots go. And for a writer of her caliber, I find myself unsurprised to say that her characters were equally as impressive. I can’t think of a single developed character in this novel who wasn’t written brilliantly. No matter who it is you are introduced to, even side characters who barely spend any time in the story or exist as someone who is solely talked about, you are introduced to someone who feels so fleshed out that they could be a real person.
I’m honestly somewhat in awe of how impressed I am with the character development in this novel. And I could probably break down how wonderful I found Ekundayo, both his younger and older self. I could go on at length about the expert complexities of Sanjeet or the deeply fascinating Kirah. I could rave about the intricacies of The Lady, the Emperor, and the Council of 11.
Best you find out for yourself.
Okay, so I listened to the audiobook for this one. And I’m incredibly grateful for that. The truth is that Raybearer is the kind of book where, if you do not already have an understanding of African culture, you really need to read it twice. I say this for a number of reasons, but the fact of the matter is that there are some pieces of this book that just need to be heard.
You see, the way Ifueko blends music and sound into her novel is perhaps the most impressive I have seen since I read The Enchanted Sonata. And that is not to say that these two books are comparable or should be compared, but rather that it is incredibly rare of me to have felt that a book was giving me sounds. I guarantee, had I not listened to this audiobook, the sheer brilliance of Ifueko’s use of sound would have been utterly lost on me due to my lack of knowledge and understanding of African culture.
That said, I do also feel like this book needs to be read. I spent a decent amount of time listening to this audiobook imagining how the songs, the sounds, and even the spelling of names would translate had I simply picked up the book. I imagine I still would have absolutely adored everything about this novel, but I would have been greatly missing out on a piece to Tarisai’s story that I currently consider integral to my experience reading it as a whole.
Joniece Abbott-Pratt did such an excellent job narrating Raybearer. I truly cannot imagine a better voice. And, at the end of the day, if you’ve not planned to pick up this novel already, I would highly recommend that you do.
I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.