I adored Jordan Ifueko’s debut novel Raybearer last year, so much so that I re-read the book this year just to be able to finish the duology in one go. I have also purchased a super shiny special edition of these books (I’ll post a picture below) and looking at it just makes me happy. The re-read was well worth it even though Ifueko brings readers up to speed quickly. But the emotional impact of what happenes in this book works much better when you don’t wait too long between Raybearer and Redemptor. BIG FAT SPOILERS FOR RAYBEARER BELOW!!
by Jordan Ifueko
Published: Hot Key Books, 2021
Hardback: 464 pages
Series: Raybearer #2
My rating: 7.75/10
Opening line: My name was Tarisai Kunleo, and no one I loved would ever die again.
The hotly anticipated sequel to the instant New York Times bestselling YA fantasy about Tarisai’s quest to change her fate
For the first time, an Empress Redemptor sits on Aritsar’s throne. To appease the sinister spirits of the dead, Tarisai must now anoint a council of her own, coming into her full power as a Raybearer. She must then descend into the Underworld, a sacrifice to end all future atrocities.
Tarisai is determined to survive. Or at least, that’s what she tells her increasingly distant circle of friends. Months into her shaky reign as empress, child spirits haunt her, demanding that she pay for past sins of the empire.
With the lives of her loved ones on the line, assassination attempts from unknown quarters, and a handsome new stranger she can’t quite trust . . . Tarisai fears the pressure may consume her. But in this finale to the Raybearer duology, Tarisai must learn whether to die for justice . . . or to live for it.
At the end of Raybearer, Tarisay made a deal with the demons of the Underworld. They would no longer take Songland’s children as a yearly sacrifice but instead get a full Raybearer Empress in two years, when Tarisai herself plans to go dow into the Underworld and end her country’s grim reality forever. Except first she has to bond herself to all the rulers through her very own Ray and that bit might just be the tougher one of the two on her quest…
Following up a book as great as Raybearer wasn’t an easy task and Ifueko does an admirable job in showing both the aftermath of all that has happened so far, as well as bring some new tasks and characters to the table. Since the plot is a rather straight-forward quest whose milestones we know beforehand, the difficult part was creating tension and giving the story good pacing. In some parts, this worked well, in others…. not so much. It felt like Jordan Ifueko tried to cram just a little bit too much into one book, what with Tarisai dealing with her new role as Empress, the fact that she might die in two years, has to convince 11 strangers to love her (!), sees strange spirit children, deals with mental health issues and with the pressure of having to continue the line of Raybearers (meaning: having children), and then there’s also a revolutionary roaming one of the kingdoms, making life hard for the government. Oh, and let’s not forget the love triangle that just didn’t have to be there. Honestly, I thought Jordan Ifueko didn’t need that trope to be great.
But just because an author tries to tackle many themes and plot points doesn’t mean that can’t work. In the case of Redemptor, I thought some ideas were very well done. I was most surprised at how I cared for Tarisai’s new Council and its members. Many of these kings and queens were openly hostile against the idea of bonding with a young girl they didn’t know, but if there’s one thing Ifueko can do, it’s write characters in a found family whose love you can feel oozing off the page. Tarisai has a tough time convincing everyone, of course, and none as much as the arrogant, vapid, insufferable, and super handsome King Zuri who likes to flirt with Tarisai but doesn’t seem to take her seriously. The girl is trying to save the world, dude!
Equally lovely was meeting Woo In’s elder sister and ruler of Songland, Min Ja, as well as some existing characters who didn’t get to shine in the first book like Dayo and Tarisai’s council sister Ai Ling or a certain Songlander girl who made it thorugh the Underworld. Of course, there is more Dayo, Kirah and Sanjeet (although decidedly too little Sanjeet for my taste).
The plot gives you pretty much what you expect going into the story, but there are a few surprises and twists along the way and the ending is pretty epic, let me tell you. But many YA books have cool plots and killer endings. What makes Ifueko’s work so special is her characters, their diversity, and how it shows that doing the right thing isn’t alwas hard. There are some heavy topics in this book, first and foremost that of mental health and the need to ask for help. Tarisai is haunted by the spirits of (possilby) dead children who were Redemptors, asking her to avenge them, to make things right, to do more. The voices in her head are relentless and you don’t have to be super smart to read this as a metaphor for mental health.
Then there’s the recurring question of Dayo’s sexuality (or lack thereof, him being interested in people of all genders romantically, but not sexually) and how that goes with the Kunleo’s “job” of keeping their lbood line alive by making babies. If Dayo isn’t going to father children, that leaves only Tarisai. And although she is perfectly fine with sex, she is not at all sure if she wants children. Ever.
The part that was less well done tackles another important topic. The revolutionary called the Crocodile is fighting for freedom and justice for the common people and as such, something we can all get behind, even Tarisai who now lives an even more privileged life than before she was Empress. The problem with this sub-plot was less the intention behind it or the message it sends, but rather its execution. The Crocodile is mentioned in passing once early on in the book and then that side story disappears because there’s so much other stuff going on. When it is mentioned again and becomes central to the plot, it feels a little out of left field. A bit more foreshadowing would have been nice, as well as generally a bit more time spent on this subject. Revolution isn’t usually a sub-plot is all I’m saying.
I don’t believe it’s a spoiler when I tell you taht Tarisai does eventually go to the Underworld as per her bargain, but I’m not telling you anything of what happens there. Merely that it’s a well written part that holds more than one surprise in store for you. The ending of the book does this amazing trick of making everything fall into place and kind of work out, even when you thought there was no way to resolve these issues. I’m not saying this has a perfectly happy ending, but it does have a perfectly satisfying one that made me close the book with a big fat smile on my face. I may not have loved it as much as Raybearer but it has cemented my love for Jordan Ifueko’s writing in general, and her characters in particular. It’s also refreshing that this is a finished duology and I can now look forward to something completely new from a great new writer.
MY RATING: 7.75/10 – Very good, leaning toward excellent