There’s a moment in this book where our heroine Tarisai is awoken in the dead of night to go rescue someone. The scene isn’t really unusual in a fantasy story, except for the part where she takes off her silk headscarf and frets about her edges before heading into adventure.
It’s a simple scene but it got a big reaction from me–as in, whoa. Is this what it feels like to be represented in fantasy worlds? To have a regular–well, erm, magical, but otherwise very relatable Black girl as the heroine in an epic fantasy? The winner who beats evil, wins the heart of all the realms and sets the standards for all that is good and heroic in an imaginary universe looks like me and my folk? Wow.
I don’t know if I’ve ever seen this done so effortlessly in a book before. Viva la #readBlackjoy!
Tarisai heads a story that has many of the familiar tropes of fantasy epics. There’s an empire ruled by an evil Emperor and his magical council, and his heir who hopes to change everything by being cheerful and kind. There are diverse denizens of diverse realms, all with their own magic and cultures based on real life regions of the world.(Note that I said the world, not just Europe and Europe adjacent. Nigeria, Ghana, China, South Korea, India, Libya all get equal billing alongside Ireland and the Baltics.) Quests, magic objects, spiritual guardians, otherworldly beasts, snarky old mentors–you name it, it’s there. But Raybearer is also focused on justice rather than conquest, which is unusual for this genre but sorely needed. The story is one of hope, love and triumph. There’s no grimdark, gross outs, or tortured love triangles. No part of the hero’s journey depends on genocide, revenge, or hatred. Rather, this is a story about learning to use one’s gifts to make the world a better place, whether or not it’s expected in society.
It also helps that out of the recent Black fantasy releases, this is probably the best written. There’s not a slow moment in this book, and the worldbuilding is lush and imaginative. There’s a lot of subtle rep and diversity. Also, I am far too old for book boyfriends, but– SANJEET! My goodness. catches vapors 😊
(Beautiful people, so far my favorite reads of 2021 are this and The Gatekeeper’s Staff–both excellent fantasy novels featuring Black cultures heavily. This is a good year for #blackjoy, and I hope you’re reading your share of it! If you want to see more books like this, check out the blog and the Equal Opportunity Bookshop. Also, be aware that this blog has affiliate relationships, and any clicks/purchases will result in a commission being paid. Peace!)