by Chinelo Ikem
Readers absolutely loved Jordan Ifueko’s debut novel Raybearer, the first book of the West-African inspired fantasy duology. Published last year on August 18, 2020, Raybearer introduced fans to Tarisai, a young Black girl raised in isolation who embarks on a complicated hero’s journey to the global empire of Aritsar to compete for a chance to be a member of the Crown Prince’s Council of Eleven.
The book received rave reviews from readers. Of Raybearer, one Goodreads reviewer wrote “Raybearer is nothing less than stunning.” Another wrote, “This has to be one of the best YA fantasy novels I’ve ever read.” Kirkus Reviews named Raybearer one of the Best Books of 2020 and noted “Debut author Ifueko’s ethnically and religiously diverse empire is well-built, taking form as it unfurls and blossoms in a way that never feels rushed.”
In the same month of its release, Raybearer hit the New York Times best-seller list under the Young Adult Hardcover Books category. Yet, despite the praise her first book received, Ifueko is honest about the difficulties she faced in writing the second and final book in the duology, Redemptor.
Writing Redemptor in 2020 was difficult for Ifueko, who admits it was tough to write it in such a short amount of time given the combination of her anxiety disorder along with COVID-19 and being a Black person during a renewed global civil rights movement after the murder of George Floyd.
“Raybearer took me twelve years, but I had to write Redemptor in nine months.” Jordan Ifueko told me in a phone interview. “And so, I had all sorts of imposter syndrome about whether or not I could do it, whether or not the book would be any good. But I’m very, very proud of Redemptor.”
In Redemptor, readers are reintroduced to many of the same characters, including Sanjeet, Kirah, Dayo, and the main character, Tarisai, who has now fulfilled her hero’s journey to become an empress herself. In the second book, readers will see a Tarisai who struggles in her reign as empress. This imperfect leadership is something Ifueko was intentional about showing.
“Tarisai’s imperfections are what I feel makes her lovable as a main character. It was very important to me that I wrote a Black female heroine that was empowering to readers, but that also got to display a lot of vulnerability. Which I don’t often see with Black female characters in fiction, to be honest.” Ifueko said. “I think a lot of Black female characters, they are either nonexistent or, when they are there, they’re portrayed as strong to the point where they don’t need any kind of protection.”
Ifueko continues. “Black girls are human, and they need help. Part of Tarisai’s journey of maturity is learning to ask for help.”
Ifueko’s decision to make Raybearer a two-book series is not for lack of material. Having started on Raybearer when she was thirteen, Ifueko expressed wanting to explore different stories after spending so much time on Tarisai. But Tarisai’s story continues, even if Ifueko will be moving on.
“To be honest, there was so much in the world that I probably could’ve written, like, four books just on Tarisai’s story.” said Ifueko.
On whether she will continue to write in the Fantasy genre, Ifueko says, “I can’t see myself writing anything but fantasy.” As a Nigerian-American Black woman, Ifueko says fantasy allows her the freedom to show up as her full self, without compromising parts of her identity.
“Fantasy is a place where all the different parts of me could exist, unquestioned. It’s a world with so many more possibilities for people who live at the intersection of a lot of cultural influences and identities. And that’s why fantasy will always be the most welcoming place for my voice.”