Jordan Ifueko’s Raybearer is both a fantasy and an epic novel. This is evident in its wide and diverse physical setting, Aritsar, presented as a continent and empire of different peoples and cultures; in its human characters who have magical powers and embark on dangerous and heroic missions, particularly the protagonist and narrator, Tarisai, whose actions and inactions will shape the future of the empire; and in its superhuman, otherworldly characters. However, the beauty of the novel lies in the fact that at the center of its plot is an action that can be carried out by an ordinary person with extraordinary determination. This action is finding one’s purpose, one’s “place in a grand story, a tale as old and pure as life, and stronger than any mortal’s wish” (205). Tarisai must find hers, or she will remain trapped in the heinous wish of her mother, The Lady, to kill Dayo, the Crown Prince of Oluwan. Similarly, Olugbade Kunleo, King of Oluwan and Emperor of Aritsar will—all in the name of further uniting the twelve realms of Aritsar—succeed in his plan to destroy the cultural practices and products of the realms and foist values and manners considered to be representative of the empire on them. What is more, with the manipulation perpetrated centuries back by Enoba the Perfect, Aritsar’s first emperor, Songland will continue to pay the prize for peace by sacrificing hundreds of its children to the abiku spirits of the Underworld as contained in the Redemptor Treaty. This is notwithstanding the fact that Songland does not benefit from the economy of Aristar. Having refused to be a part of the empire, it has a trade embargo placed on it, but has also been the only realm producing Redemptor children sacrificed to the Underworld.
In addition to power tussle, gender discrimination, oppression of common people, and other themes which the novel touches on, the revelation of this action as the ultimate thing Tarisai must do brings the relevance of the novel to human life and experience to the fore. What else could save us from being consumed by the sociopolitical crises that have long been threatening our human civilization if not the crucial need for everyone to find the purpose of their life?
For Tarisai, this purpose is justice. It is arguable that this is what the author wants her readers to recognize as the purpose of every human’s life because it is the only thing that guarantees a better future for all. Without justice, there cannot be true peace and order. More so, in the perpetual absence of justice, other principles guiding human actions like love, trust, responsibility, and accountability will be misapplied. Even if Tarisai could prevent herself from killing Dayo, she would still have misappropriated these other principles by fulfilling the equally reprehensible wishes of Olugbade had she not found this purpose..
Raybearer is a thrilling and gratifying book to read. Its fantastical setting and characterization based on such distinctive cultures as Chinese, Indian, and mainly Yoruba are impressive experimentation. Readers will find its thematic engagement appealing because it is relatable to real life. The book is particularly highly recommended for teenagers and young adults. They will learn invaluable lessons about true leadership and heroism from it.
Reviewed by Ibrahim Odugbemi, Graduate Student, Indiana University Bloomington
Published in Africa Access Review (January 25, 2021)
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