As some of you know, I was a big fan of “Raybearer” when it came out in 2020. As always, I am a loyal fan of Jordan Ifeuko’s creative plotlines, dynamic characters, and masterful writing style. As with Raybearer, Redemptor included the same unique twists on fantasy literature (eg substituting the “Pale Arts” instead of the “Dark Arts”) and highlighting African culture, making it an enjoyable read. However, a few issues were present in Redemptor that made the book a disappointing sequel to Raybearer.
On the good side, Redemptor continued the tradition of Raybearer with the vivid worldbuilding. One of my favorite aspects is the many ceremonies and griot songs sprinkled throughout. The legends and myths of the Arit Empire make the story come alive, and the exploration of Ray power was also interesting. In the beginning, Tarisai’s retelling of the systemic oppression of women impressed me. And although poor Kirah took a backseat as far as friendships went, it was interesting to see Tarisai step into her role as an Empress and form her own Council.
However, there were some staggering problems with the story. Perhaps this would have been a good book had it not been a sequel. As a sequel, it failed to provide a satisfying conclusion to the drama beginning in Raybearer; as a standalone book, it was a generally pleasant (though still confusing) read. Some sections I cringed at and some places I had to stop reading or read twice, the action confused me so much. As a note, none of this is criticism of Jordan Ifeuko, who declared in her acknowledgements that Redemptor was the hardest book she’d ever written; rather, my criticism dissects the art of storytelling and the unfair pressures put on her by the publishing company. After such a great book as Raybearer, why should a sequel be demanded only a year later?
The biggest issue with Redemptor is the unfinished tale of Tarisai’s family, Hallow, and choice to become a Redemptor. Instead of expanding the existing plot points, the entire book focuses on Tarisai’s new role as Empress and the Council she has to anoint, as well as the powers of the Ray and Arit history. New characters like Zuri/the Crocodile (heavily shipteased), alagbato spirits, the bickering nobles, and Min Ja of Songland detract heavily from concluding matters of the previous book. Am’s role is greatly diminished, especially after Tarisai’s revelation with him at the end of Book 1, which seemed more significant than the discovery that she possessed the Ray.
The author’s choice to build the story around the Ray and Arit history instead of Tarisai’s story made the book seem more like a lament over the historic injustice of the Arit Empire and sent many problematic messages about justice–and our role in it.
- The ambiguity of the ojiji. Out of everything, this was the most horrible part of Redemptor. Ojiji are demonic spirits who plague Tarisai with guilt over her empire’s systemic injustice which she had no part in but, as they accuse, she “benefited from.” Feeling guilty about her noble birth and privilege, Tarisai seeks to appease these voices of shame, guilt and isolation rather than resisting them and getting help. Even though the spirits drive her to intense guilt and isolation, she says in the end that “sometimes they motivated me to do good things” and there was no firm closure on whether the creatures were bad and what Tarisai resolved to do about it. She told her friends about the creatures at last, setting off a weeklong sickness, but not before they had plagued her and enticed her into decisions on several critical matters, such as the Pinnacle. Is anything truly good ever accomplished out of guilt? Redemptor seems to say yes.
- Is forcing goodness on people ethical? The seeds of passion over justice and change were planted in Tarisai by her predecessor, Thaddace of Mewe. However, the message becomes horribly twisted when all of Tarisai’s (and Zuri of Djbanti’s) political actions are calculated to achieve “justice” by redistributing resources and using wealth, power, and even the Ray to force people to act better. Tarisai Ray-forces the noble Adembimpe to reform her snobbish ways, while ojiji attack the noble families and exact horrific punishments for past and current injustices. The moral question of whether it is right to force another human being into good behavior is entirely ignored. Zuri of Djbante wants exactly this: nobles to wield their power to fight against injustice, forcing proper behavior on everyone. It is almost like the common political saying, “The end justifies the means.” But does it? Redemptor left the answer unsatisfyingly vague. Do past acts of injustice justify mobbing, revolt, and abuse?
- To what world will you save them? Probably unintentionally, the idea that the only way to amend for injustice is one special person (politically powerful) making grand decisions and political decrees on behalf of the poor oppressed people comes across. It’s a false gospel, especially considering that Tarisai herself is full of guilt and shame when making decisions. She doesn’t have full confidence in what she’s doing.
Stories like Adukeh’s deserve to be told more than Tarisai’s. Adukeh was from a quarry, abused, and despite that, chose to channel her voice through her art as a griot instead of inciting revolutions that would kill more people and damage society. The idea that you can only repair injustice if you are powerful is wrong and damaging. The big “justice fighters” were all powerful people like Tarisai, Zuri, and Sanjeet. In the end, it seems like these people were only fighting for themselves. We don’t see the story of a single commoner except Adukeh, who is sadly a tool for Tarisai’s political agenda.
Though there’s a lot more to discuss–plotholes in the Tarisai/Sanjeet relationship, the exciting and too-short interval of the Underworld, the extremely confusing final battle and decision of Tarisai to end the Ray’s power, I will leave you with one thought.
The Arit Empire was established as a good–almost godly–kingdom. Yes, travesties and injustices were uncovered. Yes, oppression exists. However, Raybearer didn’t do a good enough job convincing readers that the Arit Empire was a dystopia for me to cheer on the nobles as they warred and toppled the current system. Governments are put in place by God, and despite real injustice, often do a great job keeping order and peace. In the Arit Empire, citizens of 12 countries enjoy good economics, safety, roads and innovations, and political representation. With Am having established the system, it seems like he should be more consulted in whether or not it needs dismantling instead of flashing in at Tarisai’s coronation like a magical pony. Unfortunately, human beings can’t redeem millions of people and past injustices. We are only responsible for ourselves, not for others, and not for our ancestors. I like the post-fallen Empire world of The Mandalorian: it shows how impoverished and disorderly a world with no government can be. Rebellions and revolutions aren’t the answer.
Rather, I prefer Gandalf’s words on the subject of evil.
“Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.“
Did you read Redemptor? What did you think?
Until next time,