A Song of Wraiths and Ruin
Malik loves his sisters more than anyone else in the world, but is he willing to kill a princess to save them? A Song of Wraiths and Ruin follows the dual perspectives of Malik and Karina. One, a boy escaping his home in search of safety with a false name and his two sisters by his side, the other a Princess of Sonande with a fierce temperament and a charmed life stained by grief. During the capital city’s (Ziran) most anticipated celebration in 50 years, Karina finds herself in charge of the Solstasia Festival and its corresponding games. When Malik is chosen as a Champion for his alignment, he finds himself within striking distance of the princess he is meant to kill in order to get his younger sister back from a sinister figure called Idir. As he wrestles with his challenges in the festival and his intention to kill Karina, Malik finds himself tangled in a web more surprising and confusing than he ever imagined. The Princess is beautiful and fierce, but she has dark plans of her own. As the two collide on their individual paths of violence, they can’t help but be drawn back to one another despite many reasons to keep far, far apart. Full of magic, suspense, and the kind of familial love and sacrifice written about for eons, Malik and Karina’s story is not one to miss.
This story is much bigger than a fantasy about Princesses and magical foes. Brown does a great job of creating well-rounded, dynamic characters who make human mistakes and take risks for the sake of love. Even the side characters in this tale have personalities developed enough that a reader could imagine them with full stories of their own. Our two main characters, Malik and Karina are intensely human. Malik is fiercely caring and sensitive, but he has anxiety that overwhelms his senses and leaves him physically exhausted after panic attacks. Karina is ruthless and spoiled like any princess in a fairytale, but she’s plagued by the grief for the deaths of her father and sister that leads to debilitating migraines. Each character has strengths, but their weaknesses are what make them relatable and interesting. Readers looking for special characters, a fast paced story, and a story that leaves them with the same sense of enchanting magic that a good movie does, this book is the perfect choice.
Though Brown’s tale takes place in the fantastical city of Ziran, there are issues in Ziran that reflect current issues in the real world. The setting is clearly influenced by Islam and the medieval kingdoms of West and North Africa. The names of several important characters are Muslim (Malik, Layla, Fareed, Kerena) others are West African (Efua, Aminata). In a Teen Talk interview with D.C. Public Library, Brown described the historical influences that shaped the novel – the Sahara and savannah regions of North and West Africa during the 11th and 12th centuries, the era of large kingdoms. Malik is a boy from Eshran, and thus must use a fake identity when within the city limits as his people have been banned from Ziran for years due to the prejudices of the people in power. As Adil Asfour, Malik has to confront bigots and finds himself warring with standing up for his people and self-preservation in a city of people who would hate him just for being born in Eshra. Malik and his sisters embarked on their journey to Ziran in order to make and send enough money to their mother and grandmother in another city for the women to one day join them. Despite his royal treatment as a Champion in the festival games, he sees how people who look like him are treated by members of the Zirani elite. More than once, Malik’s loyalty to his heritage and family are what causes him to momentarily silence his anxious mind and stand up for what he believes is right.
Inspired by North and West-African folklore, this story is brimming with tricksters, evil spirits, and spirits from stories told long ago. Malik encounters a griot named Nyeni (gifted storyteller) many times throughout the story, highlighting the emphasis on immersive storytelling as both a skill and a magical ability for certain citizens of Sonande. Malik is no stranger to the supernatural as he has been able to see the ‘grim folk’ for most of his life. These grim folk are spirits, wraiths and other fantastical creatures only Malik can see and interact with. Along with elemental magic and a main character who is discovering the magic within his world at the same time as you, readers will find themselves in the streets of Ziran beside Karina and Malik.
Similar to astrology, the people of Sonande have an alignment with an elemental deity corresponding to the day they were born on. Wind, Sun, Moon, Fire, Water, and Life alignments help the people of Sonande connect to one another and their patron deities. For example, as a Fire alignment, a person can be expected to be brash and confident. These alignments create a world similar to our own, with prejudices and judgment. However, the people in this story use their knowledge of a person’s alignment to understand one another in a way that Western astrology does not tend to do. The people of Sonande take pride in their alignments and that pride cultivates a kind of community that may be difficult for some to find in reality.
Fans of Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes series will enjoy the elemental magic, political intrigue and mythical beings Roseanne A. Brown brought to life in A Song of Wraiths and Ruin. 5 stars.
Morgan White, M.Ed. Candidate
University of Minnesota
Published in Africa Access Review (February 21, 2023)
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