I read Raybearer in January for a book club and had a great time with it. The story was easy to fall into, and I loved the worldbuilding. I can’t believe I waited so long to read it.
Well… that’s a lie. It’s YA fantasy and these days I keep assuming that YA fantasy means “YA romance with some fantasy” that I often avoid such books. But stories like Raybearer are getting me interested in YA fantasy again.
Raybearer, book 1
Nothing is more important than loyalty. But what if you’ve sworn to protect the one you were born to destroy?
Tarisai has always longed for the warmth of a family. She was raised in isolation by a mysterious, often absent mother known only as The Lady. The Lady sends her to the capital of the global empire of Aritsar to compete with other children to be chosen as one of the Crown Prince’s Council of 11. If she’s picked, she’ll be joined with the other Council members through the Ray, a bond deeper than blood. That closeness is irresistible to Tarisai, who has always wanted to belong somewhere. But The Lady has other ideas, including a magical wish that Tarisai is compelled to obey: Kill the Crown Prince once she gains his trust. Tarisai won’t stand by and become someone’s pawn—but is she strong enough to choose a different path for herself? (Goodreads)
Raybearer was a good read. It drew me in and had me hooked from the beginning. It’s a fantasy story inspired mostly by African cultures and folklores. It’s about a young girl born from the forced union between a human woman and an alagbato, a guardian spirit or fairy for a natural resource, called Melu, who’s the guardian for the savannah in a province called Swana.
Tarisai, the protagonist, was born and raised in an invisible fortress where her mother, called the Lady, had forbidden anyone from touching her because Tarisai can “steal the stories” of whatever or whomever she touches. Basically, she can see the past of whatever or whomever she touches if she chooses to. Tarisai is never allowed outside the premises.
Due to the nature of her birth, Tarisai is half human and half ehru, an enslaved spirit. When she turned 11, the Lady finally allows her to leave the fortress with a mission to join the young Raybearer’s Council of Eleven and carry out the Lady’s instructions.
As I said above, I was hooked from the beginning. I love the fairytale vibe of the story, which made it seem even more magical than it already is. I also liked Tarisai, who’s smart, kind, and quick-witted and fervently wishes for a stronger relationship with her often-absent mother. We read from Tarisai’s perspective and are limited to it. Since Tarisai was very sheltered as a child, there’s much she (and us readers) do not know of the outside world or the Lady’s intentions when the story begins. Much of what Tarisai knows in the beginning is from what she’s taught by tutors, but I gobbled up every moment of new information Tarisai gains as the world expands for her because that’s what I loved the most about this story — the worldbuilding.
My favorite parts are all those where we learn about how the one continent was created, the cultures and beliefs of the different provinces, the mystical creatures that inhabit the lands along with the humans, and the mythos of the land as well. So my utmost favorite parts were when we learn more about the Pelican, who’s also called the Storyteller and is considered a god in this world. It was all so intriguing, especially when we learn more about Raybearers as well.
I liked learning about how the different provinces worship the Storyteller or what about the Storyteller they value the most. Seeing the mystical beings, like the tutsu sprites, was fun and visiting otherworldly places, like the Bushlands, and travelling by lodestones, which transports a person by using magic to dissolve their body, was thrilling to read about. And, of course, I enjoyed reading about the different powers the children presented when competing to join the Raybearer’s Council of Eleven. All that is what made this story a good read for me.
As for the plot itself, it was okay. If I wasn’t so taken in by the world it’s set in, I probably wouldn’t have been as hooked on the plot as I was. I appreciated that the romance that’s hinted at did not overcome the plot either, and I actually like how the romance starts out between the two. Apart from Tarisai, I also like her friend Kirah and would love to read a story from her perspective. I would also like to read a story that goes into the Underworld because the whole concept of children sacrificed to demons in the underworld but have a chance to get out by following the map that they are born with tattooed to their entire body is really interesting.
I kept changing my rating, lol. I think I gave it 3.5 stars at first, then dropped it 3 before moving it up to 4 upon finishing this review. Sometimes, it’s not until I sit down to write up my reflection that I realize how much (or how little) I liked what I read. My problem here is that I love the world but didn’t care much for the plot itself. Just weird of me.
Raybearer is a good read set in a fantastic world that I’d like to read more about, so I think I’ll pick up the next book.
Buy | Borrow | Bypass
I haven’t seen a lot of buzz about it, but the few reviews I’ve come across are all positive ones. I think it’s underrated and worth checking out.