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Literature / Raybearer

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Raybearer is a 2020 young adult fantasy novel by Jordan Ifueko.

Since her birth, Tarisai has only known Bhekina House, a small dwelling unseen to those but her tutors and her mother. While she knows her tutors well, she knows very little about her mother, known only as The Lady. She rarely sees her mother and even more rarely gets to be held by her. This lack of connection makes Tarisai yearn for a family, for people who aren't afraid of her and love her freely.

Luckily for her, she may just have a chance to get exactly that when she's ferreted off to the capital. There, she joins other children around her age in a test to eventually become a part of Prince Enkudayo's Council of Eleven. Only those who love the Prince and are able to connect to his Ray can be accepted into his Council. Unluckily, The Lady has ordered her to kill the Prince as soon as she's accepted into the council. Will she be able to get the family she's longed for or will she end up destroying it?

A sequel named Redemptor was released in August 2021.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents:
    • The Lady used to leave Tar alone for months and kept her locked up in Bhekina house with no one but her tutors for company. She also used her wish to brainwash Tar into being a sleeper-agent to kill the crown prince. When Tar meets her again as a teenager, imprisoned by the emperor, The Lady guilt-trips her for trying to resist the wish and gaslights her about all the abuse she's suffered, showing not even a lick of remorse for her neglectful and narcissistic parenting.
    • Sanjeet's father used to send him to the fighting pits to earn money and would regularly beat on him and his mother. He also send Sanjeet's brother Sendhil away with a band of mercenaries because he believed Sendhil was too soft.
  • Achilles' Heel: Raybearers can eventually attain immunity to all types of death save old age by anointing members of their Council - and these anointed ones subsequently become the only people who could potentially kill them. (A highly unlikely occurrence, given that the Ray will only work on those who have formed a truly loving bond with the Raybearer, but still a weakness which the Lady attempts to exploit.)
  • Affectionate Nickname:
    • "Dayo" for Ekundayo.
    • "Jeet" for Sanjeet.
    • "Tar" or "Sunshine Girl" for Tarisai. The latter is used exclusively by Sanjeet.
  • Brother–Sister Team: Tar and Dayo, who as the Raybearers are meant to rule together and balance each other out. Downplayed since they're cousins, not siblings, even though they do have a very sibling-like relationship.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Tarisai and her friends have successfully uncovered the imbalance in the treaty with the abiku towards Songland and have stopped the treaty from unfairly dooming another generation of Songland-children. Tar has also proven the existence and legitimacy of female Raybearers, meaning the empire will be ruled by both emperors and empresses in the future like it was meant to be. However, Tarisai had to become a Redemptor in order to save the Songland children and the children of Aritsar and now she must anoint a council for herself in the timespan of two years, a near impossible task. Not only that, in order for her Raybearer-blood to be potent enough for the new treaty, the Anointed Ones must be the rulers of the twelve realms of Aritsar. Safe to say, Tar will have her hands full in Redemptor.
  • Blind Seer: Umansa, whose Hallow allows his otherwise sightless eyes to see prophecies in the stars, which he weaves into tapestries.
  • Child by Rape: Tarisai. Melu certainly didn't want to sleep with The Lady, but was forced to, due to still owing her a wish.
  • The Chosen One: The Kunleo-bloodline as a whole. Children have a chance of being born with a power called the Ray, which lets them link their minds to eleven people they've formed an intimate connection with. Said connection will provide them with an immunity against one way to die. Later in the book, it's revealed that every generation is supposed to have not two, but four Raybearers: an empress, an emperor, a prince and a princess.
  • The Chosen Many: To ensure that Raybearers would become humble rulers willing to truly share their power with others, the Storyteller (God) made two of them. One Raybearer represents courage and compassion; the other represents wisdom and charisma. Both have times when they are right and the other is wrong.
  • Claimed by the Supernatural: Redemptor children are born with markings on their bodies that form a map of the underworld they will be sent to. These marks are permanent and won't fade for as long as the child lives, even if they managed to escape from the underworld.
  • Compelling Voice: Ai Ling's Hallow is this, though she's actually charismatic and silver-tongued enough on her own that she usually doesn't need to use it to convince people to do things. It's also noted in Redemptor that it works better when she says things that the target already believes in some regard to be true.
  • Condescending Compassion: The first sign that Olugbade would become a tyrant was that, even when he was young, he couldn't trust anyone who wasn't clearly inferior to him. It didn't matter how much they loved him, or how similar to him they were. All equals were seen as threats.
  • Cool Big Sis: Princess (and, in the second book, Queen) Min Ja of Songland is this to Woo In.
  • Creepy Child: The abiku often take the form of these, as a deliberate perverse mockery of the Redemptor children.
  • The Cutie: Dayo. He's a kind, empathetic soul with not a bad bone in his body. It's no wonder his Council is completely smitten with him.
  • Deal with the Devil: The Redemptor-treaty between Aritsar and the Abiku, a race of malevolent demons. It dictates that every child born with the markings of a Redemptor is to be sent into the underworld before their eleventh birthday. In turn, the Abiku will withhold from declaring war, ensuring that Aritsar can live in peace.
  • Declaration of Protection: Tar made one to Dayo when they were children. She remembers this event right as her ehru-brainwashing forces her to near-fatally stab him.
  • Divine Birds: The highest god in the Aritsar religion, Am the Storyteller, is portrayed in stories and artwork as a pelican, and pelicans are subsequently held as the most sacred birds in the empire.
  • Eating the Eye Candy: At one point in the book Tar watches Sanjeet spar topless and is obviously pleased by what she's seeing.
  • Fake Memories: Tar is able to give people pleasant dreams, based on their desires and memories.
  • Family of Choice: The Council of Eleven serves as a type of close family to their Raybearer, and themselves.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The setting of this story is meant to reflect Nigeria in its pre-colonial aspect, though it is a fictional nation with its own unique takes. However, the many kingdoms in Aritsar, based on the naming conventions of both the realms and their citizens, seem influenced by various historical cultures across the globe:
    • Oluwan is modeled after the Yoruba Kingdoms, which were located in what is now southern Nigeria.
    • The nations located in the center of Aritsar are broadly based on other Sub-Saharan cultures: Swanna seems modeled after the various Bantu peoples of lower Africa, including what is now Botswanna and South Africa; Nyamba on several West African Empires such as the Ghana and Mali Empires; and Djbanti on the Somalian and Swahili peoples of East Africa.
    • Dhyrma possesses characteristics of pre-colonial India.
    • The Blessid people have various influences from the Bedouin nomads of the Middle East.
    • Songland is based on Joseon-period Korea.
    • Biraslov, Quetzala, Moreyao, Mewe, Nontes, and Sparti seem to have various Slavic, pre-Columbian American, Chinese, Celtic, Medieval France, and Ancient Greek influences, respectively.
  • Feminist Fantasy: While there is a degree of gender equality in Aritsar and some powerful positions can go to men or women, the Ray only goes to men and women are devalued. A key part of the book is Tar realizing the injustice of this. Namely, that this injustice is artificial: the Storyteller made two Rays, one for the Emperor and one for the Empress, to symbolize that power must be shared. However, the Emperor claimed them both and hid the existence of female Raybearers to solidify his power. The Lady is the female Raybearer of Olugbade's generation and her Freudian Excuse is that she was thrown out of the palace to hide this, while Tarisai is the female Raybearer of Ekundayo's generation. In the end, Tarisai exposes the ruse and takes her place as Ekundayo's equal, the Empress of Aritsar.
  • Fighting from the Inside: When The Lady reactivates the wish, Tar's body goes on complete auto-pilot and lures Dayo away to a remote location to kill him, all while the small part of Tar that is still aware is mentally screaming at him to run. While she cannot stop herself from injuring Dayo, her will is strong enough to make the injury heavy but non-fatal.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • There are a lot of hints scattered throughout the story that Tar is a Raybearer.
      • Tar is frequently associated with the sun and the warmth of sunlight, down to Sanjeet's Affectionate Nickname for her being "Sunshine Girl".
      • Tar is immune to fire. She at first suspects this to be because of her being half-ehru. In reality, it's the immunity in her Ray she was born with.
      • Both Tar and Dayo have an almost immediate connection to each other, feeling that they are incomplete on their own. It's the subconscious instinct of two Raybearers, knowing they ought to rule together.
      • Despite not having been anointed at the time, Tar is able to hear Dayo's call for help over the Ray during the Children's Palace fire. Because she has it too.
    • Tar mentions that Dayo frequently interferes whenever she tries to speak with Mbali, the former Swana-representative and does his best to prevent the two of them from meeting. This is later revealed to be Dayo's slightly misguided attempt to help Tar fight the wish, by keeping everything that could remind her of Swana and thus The Lady away from her.
  • Forgiveness: An overarching theme of the story. Tarisai, despite all that The Lady has done to her, manages to let go of her bitterness toward her mother for the most part and forgives her for the years of abuse at the end. Contrasting this is The Lady's unwillingness to forgive Olugbade and his council, going so far as to try and murder his son via her half-ehru daughter.
  • Freudian Excuse: The Lady was born a Kunleo and was allowed to live in the Children's Palace, after her older brother Olugbade grew fond of her. However, he came to resent her when she demonstrated greater political talent than he and became more and more popular among his candidates. The nail in the coffin came when the Lady, innocently believing that proving herself powerful would mend their relationship, revealed to him that she, too, had the Ray. Olugbade accused her of being a fake and using dark magic, then evicted her and the candidates she had anointed from the Children's Palace. The Lady and her Anointed Ones were forced to live on the streets for years. The Lady swore revenge on Olugbade and his council and made plans to overthrow him and become empress.
  • Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse: Despite her rather tragic past described above, the book never once pretends The Lady's abuse of Tarisai is in any way justified. Tar herself ultimately rejects the notion that her changing the empire for the better was her stepping in her mother's footsteps and while she does forgive her mother, she also makes it clear that the way The Lady treated her wasn't right.
    The Lady: But sometimes, I have learned, the fruit is unlike the tree.
    Tarisai's narration: It was the closest she would ever come to apologizing for hurting Dayo.
  • God-Emperor: The emperors of Aritsar are treated as this. Their Ray is said to be a gift from Warlord Fire himself and represents their divine right to rule.
  • Half-Breed Angst: Tar agonizes a lot over her non-human heritage, not helped by most of her tutors being unwilling to touch her in her childhood because of it and Woo In and Kathleen routinely treating her more as The Lady's pet than her own person. She often refers to herself as a demon or a monster and it only worsens after the wish almost makes her kill Dayo.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Tarisai is half ehru and half human. Her ehru side is what allows her mother to control her through a wish she made to her ehru-father Melu.
  • Heaven Above: Inverted. The final resting place for deceased souls in the Aritsar afterlife is the aptly-named Core, a paradise at the very center of the Earth, even deeper than the underworld.
  • I Know You Know I Know: Olugbade and his Council immediately see that Tarisai is the Lady's daughter, and assume (correctly) that the Lady sent her to kill Ekundayo. The Lady, of course, knew that they would see this, and so deliberately raised Tar completely ignorant of both the concept of the Ray and her own background and plans; thus, unless the Council could prove that she was faking her innocence (and Mbali's powers confirmed for them that she was not), or if she didn't have a Hallow, divine law obligated them to allow her a chance to be on Dayo's council. Thaddace, in turn, realizes that this must have been the Lady's plan, and comments on the brilliance of it.
  • It's All About Me: The Lady sees Tarisai mainly as an extension of herself rather than her own person; she almost never calls her by her name (given by her ehru father), referring to her instead as "Made-of-Me," and talks about the wrongs done to her by the emperor as though they had been done directly to Tar as well. Even when Tar directly acts against her desires, the Lady rationalizes it as Tar simply mirroring her own rebelliousness. It's also later revealed that she lied to Woo In about intending to fix the loophole that has all Redemptor children born in Songland, simply because she knew the other kingdoms would balk at this and thus impede her chances of them accepting her as Empress.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Invoked deliberately by Tarisai on herself. After Dayo chooses to make her one of his Anointed, she uses her Hallow to erase all memories of her past, even The Lady, which temporarily frees her from the wish's control.
  • Loophole Abuse: The Lady desired a child who would be an extension of herself and act entirely according to her will, but was informed by Melu that such a wish was not allowed, as a human may not be controlled in such a way as an ehru the Lady instead wishes for Melu to conceive a child with her, thus creating a half-ehru child who can be commanded as such.
  • Love Triangle: Seems to be set up with Dayo, Tar and Sanjeet. Tar has obvious feelings for the latter, while a lot of people also suspect she is interested in the former. Ultimately subverted, as neither Tar nor Dayo like each other that way. All the better, since Tar and Dayo are later on revealed to be cousins.
  • Magic Music: Kirah's Hallow is the ability to heal others through song.
  • Manchurian Agent: Tar is meant to be this to her mother The Lady. In her childhood, The Lady showed her a picture of Dayo and wished for her to kill him once he anointed her, to which Tar was forced to comply due to her ehru-heritage. When she sees his face for the first time, she is immediately overcome by murderous rage and only held back by the clause in the wish that said she had to be anointed to kill him. When The Lady gets Tar back under her control years later, this trigger returns with a vengeance and Tar has to fight tooth and nail to not strangle Dayo whenever she so much as glimpses his face.
  • Meaningful Name: Invoked in-story. Tarisai's name means "Behold what is coming". Fitting, since Tar's arrival brings some pretty major changes to the empire in the end.
  • Mind Manipulation: Tarisai's Hallow is a form of this. Whenever she touches somebody or something she can see their memories and experience them as if they were her own. This works better on living beings, as they're better at storing memories.
  • The Nameless: The Lady doesn't seem to have an actual name apart from her title. Even in the empire's official records about her, she is only called "Lady X". This is most likely because of her being a female Kunleo, who spent part of her life in the Children's Palace. She has no name because she was never given one.
  • Nigh-Invulnerability: Every Raybearer is born with an immunity to one type of death, and gain a new immunity for each person they anoint. Once they have a full Council of eleven, they are effectively this and can only ever die of old age (or being killed by one of their anointed).
  • Not-So-Well-Intentioned Extremist: The Lady presents herself as a viable alternative to Olgubade, especially through her promise of finding a way to save Songland's children from the Redemptor-curse. In truth, she is just as selfish and tyrannical as he is. She doesn't even intend to keep her promise towards Woo In and Songland, as that would mean offering up the children of Aritsar instead, a course of action that would most certainly turn the rulers of Aritsar against her.
  • Papa Wolf: Played with: Melu is not very present in Tarisai's life during her childhood; however, despite the circumstances of Tarisai's conception, and having declared the prospect of a half-ehru half-human to be "an abomination," Melu consistently shows compassion for his daughter - bargaining with the Lady to give her an actual name of her own, expressing sympathy for what he knows the Lady is going to force Tarisai to do (even though her complying with the wish would finally free him from his bondage), and overall gives the impression of being fairly fond of her in his own way. He certainly displays more concern for her well-being and respect for her autonomy than her mother.
  • Parental Abandonment: Any child of an emperor that doesn't have the Ray (or is female) is abandoned at birth and forgotten, save for the single unique case where an emperor passed with no immediate Raybearing male heir.
  • Parental Neglect:
    • The Lady would leave Tarisai for months at a time, leaving her in the care of her tutors.
    • Olugbade and Ekundayo barely interact throughout the first book, with the latter raised largely by his "aunts" and "uncles" of his father's council (including his birth mother, but by custom that relationship was not allowed to be acknowledged).
  • Platonic Life-Partners: While Tar and Dayo do love each other and share a unique bond as the two Raybearers of their generation, their relationship is purely platonic.
  • Sadistic Choice: The Lady forces Thaddace to choose between letting her drop his lover Mbali to her death, or killing Olugbade, his beloved emperor whom he has sworn to defend. Though it clearly destroys him to do so, Thaddace chooses the latter.
  • Screw Politeness, I'm a Senior!: Old Mongwe, evident within moments of her introduction.
    Tarisai: Are you Old Mongwe?
    Old Mongwe: (straight-faced) No. I am Mongwe the Newborn Babe. Old Mongwe is in the other sprite-covered earth shrine in the middle of the wilderness. Sit down and drink your tea, you tiresome child.
  • Secret Secret-Keeper: Close to the end of the story, Dayo reveals that he's known about Tar being a Manchurian Agent since their childhood. When they slept next to each other, she once accidentally put her hand on his forehead and shared her childhood memories with him, including The Lady's wish. Despite this, he believed she was more than what The Lady wanted her to be and dedicated himself to help her break out of the wish.
  • Side Bet: When Tarisai orders herself to be cloistered in a tower with Sanjeet, Mayazatyl bets that it's because she's pregnant and needs to hide it. Mayazatyl has to pay up seven gold coins when the truth comes out — but more importantly for the already wealthy Council, she has to admit she was wrong.
  • True Companions: The Council and their king always have each other. It is this psychic-heightened unity, more than gold or prestige, that attracts many people to the role.
  • Truth Serum: High Priestess Mbali's Hallow appears to function like this, allowing her to compel truthful answers to her questions.
  • Used to Be a Sweet Kid: Sanjeet's younger brother Sendhil was once very kind and peaceful, but his time with the mercenary group his father forced him to join completely broke him, turning him bitter, callous and violent.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Woo In is extremely loyal to the Lady and at one point sets the Children's Palace on fire under her orders to kill Dayo. However, the reason he does this is because the Lady promised him to liberate Songland from bearing the brunt of the Redemptor-curse every century. The second he realizes The Lady was using him for his connection to Songland as its former prince and never intended to lift the curse, he turns on her and joins Tar and her friends.
  • Worth It: Dayo never stops believing it was a good choice to anoint Tarisai, despite the attempt on his life that she could only make because of it. Given the huge number of lives she saves as his councilor and co-ruler, he is quite justified in this.