Raybearer (Raybearer, #1)
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? With extraordinary world-building and breathtaking prose, Raybearer is the story of loyalty, fate, and the lengths we’re willing to go for the ones we love.
At the palace, she is given trials to see if she could be one of the prince's rays, a council of eleven bonded to the emperor that fulfill government duties and have a unique connection. They are linked to the Raybearer and provide him with certain immunities to death while being able to speak among each other through their minds. This power is infinitely appealing to Tarisai who grew up very lonely. Her path is complicated by the nature of her being and the injustices in the country where she lives that she desperately wants to right. The question of who decides our fates is prominent, and I love the way this developed to the stunning conclusion.
What I loved: The character and world-building here are phenomenal, and they all come to life throughout the book. Everyone is multidimensional with both good and bad elements, and they really come to feel so genuine and real. Like Tarisai, we come to love Dayo and the other children with whom she grows. Even The Lady who seemed like an enemy is a complex character who we come to understand throughout the story.
The fantasy elements here are lush with complex history and mythology that are absolutely fascinating. The choices that have been made to prevent war among people and with the underworld are terrible, but what a price for peace. The scenes in the Bush are incredible, with the history and warnings we are given before plunging into the nightmarish scenes that take their companions with its dangerous magic.
I also found the themes really interesting here. Not only do we get themes of fate/destiny and possible inherent biological/genetic predispositions, but we also get some themes about sexism and human nature that leads to such practices (sexism and racism), the importance of individual cultures and consequences of erasing them, forging your own path, and the true costs of sacrifices seemingly for the greater good. It ends up being quite a powerful and thought-provoking read.
Final verdict: Lush and atmospheric, RAYBEARER is a must-read YA fantasy. With important themes, unforgettable characters, and elaborate world-building, this book is a thought-provoking and captivating journey.