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.
This Raybearer duology, and all its many parts, is one of the more acquiescent series you’ll read, with Jordan’s use of sensory language really grabbing you by the throat, calling to each of your five senses in profound and meaningful ways. It’s quieting in the way a poem is, using what feels like a new catalogue of figurative language to create images in our minds, a dialect that I personally find very soothing. Of course, the opposite is true; aside from some of the more fantastical elements including a fictional Aritsar, Jordan hasn’t introduced a new vernacular at all. She’s simply given us a portrayal of West African oral literature that our white western chauvinistic gaze doesn’t see nearly enough, with Eurocentrism taking up most of the oxygen in the room. And shame on all of us because Jordan, plus a handful of other AOC, are the future of fantasy, heck, according to my bookshelf they’re the present!
Yes, choose any number of adjectives you wish, Redemptor inserts itself into a perfect point in the timeline Jordan has created, with Tarisai rejecting her birthright, thereby altering her timeline and the potentials of her life. Her culture, for various reasons, lead many to believe that people are tied to one destiny, to one timeline. But that doesn’t account for chaos, and whenever there is a proliferation of these events, there is a convergence because their world has encountered a chaotic carbuncle resulting in destiny disruptions. You could call it a collective of destiny’s I suppose, but because of the proximity of these timelines, fluctuation occurs, affecting those on multiple timelines. This is a word-salad, fancy thesaurus kind of way of saying that what Tarisai and Dayo have done is create a rift in time that will forever change the way things are done in this fictional world. In universe, those that lived during these times will forever mark this point in history as before the Empress Redemptor, and after. Basically, Jordan can build the shit out of a world, including a dynamic timeline, and I would put her world-building prowess up against almost anyone else.
Redemptor picks up pretty much right where Raybearer left us, with Tarisai juggling guilt, grief, and leadership, all while balancing on a high wire, too much in either direction, dare as she might, and the whole act will go to shit. This is a precarious position, she, a teenage Black girl, finds herself in. Remember, she’s burdened herself with a quest to end the needless deaths of Redemptor children, haunted by spirits who are looking for their pound of flesh. Tarisai was given two years to prepare for her journey to the Underworld and man, time sure does fly when you’ve got a kingdom to rule and an aristocracy to stomp! She’s also on the verge of anointing a new council, fulfilling her part of the bargain made with the abiku, to form a commission of Arit rulers, which even includes those Songland weirdos. This presents an early and practical opportunity for Jordan to introduce us to a bunch of new characters, some more vital than others, the many heads of state that will make up her council.
There’s a lot happening, and right away in Redemptor, and it stands to reason that the big-picture items are the same as Raybearer, so a retread of them is not necessary. The biggest difference really is not how Aritsar will react as a nation, but how the individual’s themselves respond to these winds of change, the old guard being replaced by the new. So, in that sense, this giant genre story really morphs beautifully into a character driven piece. Yes, with all that annoying plot stuff over and done with in Raybearer, Jordan cuts loose on a growing cast of characters, but she’s not without a message mind you. And while to some it might seem like a bit too much to wrap up, something I’ll get to in a second, I actually found the character side quite compartmentalized, all very neat and tidy.
Ultimately, what I believe Jordan is conveying is how does a world divided and burdened by past injustices, full of generational trauma, put all its hopes for reunification and reparations into one teenage Black girl? Today’s Black youth are burdened now in ways that reflect this story, coming to terms with injustices of the past and ongoing state violence that occurs every single day in the United States, while also expected to usher in great change. This isn’t a case of history repeating itself necessarily, more wish fulfillment, because in the age of the Redemptor Empress, the young people are the ones who are leading, who are calling the shots, who are forcing change. So, these curmudgeons, killjoys, and wet blankets (racists, colonists, and greedy autocrats) like things a certain way because that certain way happens to suit them nicely, well, a change is coming. Yes, up until now it’s been an imperium of waste, but Tarisai has other ideas and she’s backed by some very able bodied friends and allies.
Redemptor does a great job of building onto Aritsar’s mythology, magic, and history, expanding on the beautiful lore of the first book, and stretching the map. Parsing the different ways Jordan executes all these things is tricky without spoilers so I won’t even try. I’ve said this before about other authors, but Jordan doesn’t need a dummy like me spoiling any of the plot points, so I won’t even go there. But I will say that it’s pretty much, and refreshingly so, a straight line, with Jordan eschewing the past for the future, perhaps leaving those pre-Raybearer particulars for future stories?
Jordan doesn’t rest on her laurels however, tasking herself with adding even more characters to an already bloated cast, so if you felt we barely knew most of the council and hoped that that might be fixed in the sequel, not only will you be disappointed, but you’ll get a whole new council to barely know. This brings me to my only issue really in the book and that is in the character department. Yes, all of Steve’s (me) favorites from Raybearer are either absent for most of the book, not used at all, or sidelined for broader purposes. For context, my favorite characters in Raybearer were The Lady, Woo In, Kathleen, and Kirah (yes, I know). Now, this is a non-spoiler review but if your bingo card has the same names on it, you’re in for a long night, so put those dabbers away, you don’t need’em.
Looking at it this way, I could understand how people might think character work was sidelined in favor of plot, but it’s actually the other way around, and I think the book is better for it overall, but there are some concessions made from the cast of Raybearer, there’s no denying it. I mean, it makes sense, some are pushed aside for new characters who are advancing the plot as Tarisai not only has to recruit Arit rulers, but go on a little road trip as well, I get that. But I’m not going to lie; I may never forgive Jordan for the outright omission of a certain book one character! But not all is lost, in lieu of these characters, we do get some really great newbies, with Zuri, King of Djbanti and Crown Princess Min Ja of Songland reaching equally great heights. These two absolutely won my heart over, and I’m going to be thinking about Zuri and Min Ja for a long time. And despite my griping, a couple of folks from the first book do get some quality screen time, even if it does feel a little contrived. For instance, I loved getting to know Ai Ling a little bit better and seeing her relationship with Dayo flourish had me smiling as I’m sure it will for a great many. But that’s really it as mains like Kirah, Woo In, and main squeeze Sanjeet are back benched. Again, if not for incredible contributions from two of the greenhorns, their absence would’ve been glaring.
So, who are these fresh faces that steal this book in my opinion? Well, the abiku asked Tarisai to form a council of Arit rulers, the only problem is Songland is not part of the Aritsar empire and has been carrying the entire burden of offering up redemptory children. As you would expect, relations between Songland and basically everywhere else aren’t great, so, Tarisai invites Queen Hye Sun of Songland to join her council, to the surprise of many, hoping to heal old wounds. Tarisai, thanks to recent events and friendships, understands more than anyone that what’s happened/happening in Songland needs to stop if Aritsar is to truly move forward and heal.
Hye Sun has had enough, she’s old, tired, and is looking to retire so she abdicates her crown to her daughter, Crown Princess Min Ja during this first meeting of the rulers. Rumored to have murdered her seven older brothers, Min Ja is no bullshit and is next in line chronologically (Woo In is younger), and believe you me, more than ready to take over for her mother. Min Ja isn’t alone, she’s accompanied by a consort who goes by the name of Lady Da Seo, who is armless (literally) and has a scared face after saving Min Ja from an assassination attempt by her elder brothers. I don’t know what’s going on with me and Songland, but as Kirah and Woo In were my favorite couple in book one, Min Ja and Da Seo are my favorite couple in book two. As the book goes on, Min Ja proves to be a challenging match to Tarisai and the more you learn about these two, the more you’ll appreciate Jordan’s character building and concept of true love. It’s really great stuff.
With so much going on, you’d be forgiven to not notice the absence of a “rogue” archetype to this point, well Jordan fills out that character sheet nicely with her version of one, namely Zuri, King of Djbanti. Dashingly smolderrific? Check. Rough exterior with a chewy center? Check. A general malaise towards authority? Check. Has more to lose than they let on? Check. Swashbuckling? Check. I could go on and you get the point, Zuri is cut from the same cloth as many that came before but there’s a wonderful plot point that makes him standout, he’s incredibly nuanced, perhaps the most so in the book. Of course, I can’t mention any of the reasons why because of spoilers but when he’s not getting Tarisai’s blood boiling and her heartrate pulsing, well, the man lives many lives let’s just put it that way.
His role isn’t simply to provide Tarisai with another option, it goes much deeper than that and his impact will be felt on future generations thanks to the philosophical and idealistic impressions he’s left on her. Zuri’s story is a lot of “what if’s”, and I’d imagine he’ll find his way into the hearts of many readers. But like Min Ja, Zuri is one of those characters you wish you had more time with and if you hadn’t already, should make you realize Jordan is quite gifted when it comes to filling out a roster full of interesting and consequential characters.
So, what’s the bottom line?
From a storytelling perspective, this duology isn’t groundbreaking, and if you read a lot then your sixth sense will give you a pretty good idea of where things will go story wise. Any and all issues I have with this book, which are minor, would’ve likely been solved with a third entry. There’s simply too much story, too much world-building, and too many great ideas to be confined to two books. Because for most of Redemptor, it does feel like the second act in a trilogy, especially the way, as I’ve mentioned, new characters are brought into the mix. And the ending, while clean, is abrupt, even a little anti-climactic, and I really don’t see how you could think otherwise. Now, anti-climactic doesn’t mean bad, but it is what it is and if the only real gripe you have is that you essentially want more, well, that’s not a bad place to be.
Because of all that and my deep undying love for The Lady, Redemptor just doesn’t reach quite the same heights as Raybearer did for me personally, which I thought was a perfect book one. Listen, endings are hard, epic fantasy endings are even harder, but Redemptor delivers a more than satisfying conclusion to this incredible world Jordan has gifted us. She stretches the map, introduces new conflicts, wraps up some old, gives us some new characters you won’t soon forget, and ends with a promise of more to come. And as reliant as this narrative is on its conclusion, mostly because we as readers demand one, it’s the journey that I value most in these books. Yes, here at the end of all things, I find myself ruminating more about the past than the future, the events that got us here in the first place, starting with “I shouldn’t have been surprised that fairies exist.”
Even before that there’s a story to be told and I hope one day Jordan is afforded the opportunity to do just that, to give us an expanded version of the things we only got a taste of. And not that she’s asking, but I know just where to start!
Redemptor is out now, click HERE to order a copy today!
About the Author:
Jordan Ifueko is the NYT Bestselling Author of the RAYBEARER series. She’s a Nebula Award, Ignyte Award, Audie Award, and Hugo Lodestar finalist, and she’s been featured in People Magazine, NPR Best Books, NPR Pop Culture Hour, & ALA Top Ten. She writes about magic Black girls who aren’t magic all the time, because honestly, they deserve a vacation. Ifueko lives in Los Angeles with her husband David & their 3-legged trustafarian dog Reginald Ovahcomah.