Sophomore slump who? Jordan Ifueko’s follow-up novel to her 2020 debut, Raybearer, is a beacon for all fantasy duologies.
In Redemptor we continue our journey with Tarasai, Dayo, and the rest of their council siblings as they are presented with a series of nigh impossible tasks:
- As the second Raybearer, Tarasai must convene a council of her own
- Despite the fact that many of the nobles think she is a murderer
- Under a deadline set by the underworld who haunts her with ghastly visions so regularly that she begins to doubt her own sanity
- A mysterious rebellion leader is not only fomenting rebellion throughout the various regions of Aritsar, but also stirring up the ancient magic of environmental guardians prophesied to cause multiple simultaneous natural disasters
- Because of her promise to the spirits of the underworld earlier in the series, Tarasai must now prepare herself to take a long walk into the underworld and somehow survive
Building a resolution to any one of these issues would be problem enough for anyone, let alone someone with Tarasai’s anxious nature. Fortunately, her council siblings make it clear that they do not expect her to take on each of these problems alone. From her council sister, Ai Ling, taking the lead on helping Tarasai get to know her potential council members, to each of her council siblings returning to their home kingdoms to counter the impending natural disasters, they have Tarasai (and the kingdom’s) back. While Tarasai recognizes these thoughtful acts, she cannot beat a lingering insistence that she should and could do more. It does not help that a large part of this insistence comes from the creepy voices of the underworld spirits both pushing her to find solutions and isolating her from those who could help. In so many ways Tarasai’s journey in Redemptor exemplifies burn out and how so many of us get caught in this cycle. How it is that the pressure that we feel from others and put onto our own shoulders places us in situations where we seem to ‘set ourselves on fire to warm a frozen world’ [sic]—as Sanjeet, Tarasai’s council brother/love interest, puts it.
In fact, Ifueko successfully pulls several real world observations into this intense fantasy world. We see the various ways in which people cope with greater concerns by crafting elaborate personality masks; the reasons why guilt will never be an effective tool for the collective good; the folly of relying on the kindness of the most wealthy to balance an empire; and why imagination is an extremely important component in fostering hope. The skill with which Ifueko welds these concepts to the central story bolsters her growing reputation as an author to watch. Truly, the only critique that I have for Redemptor is the predictability of a couple of the character reveals. Yet, because there are so many different components to the plot, this predictability did not lessen my enjoyment of the novel overall.
Redemptor has all of the elements of a good fantasy series: relatable characters, top tier representation of different ethnicities, gender identities, sexualities, and cultures, not to mention fantastic storytelling that satisfyingly wraps up in two books. I highly recommend this series to any readers looking for any or all of these elements in a future read, especially if they’re looking for a fast-paced story that they will not want to put down.