Author: Tomi Adeyemi
Rating: 5 Stars
Dates read: 30 Jun 18 – 08 Jul 18
Publication date: 08 March 18
Publisher: Macmillan Children’s
Genre(s): Fantasy, YA
They killed my mother.
They took our magic.
They tried to bury us.
Now we rise.
Zélie remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. When different clans ruled – Burners igniting flames, Tiders beckoning waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoning forth souls.
But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, anyone with powers was targeted and killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope. Only a few people remain with the power to use magic, and they must remain hidden.
Zélie is one such person. Now she has a chance to bring back magic to her people and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must learn to harness her powers and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.
Danger lurks in Orïsha, where strange creatures prowl, and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to come to terms with the strength of her magic – and her growing feelings for an enemy.
I waited so long to get my hands on this book that when it arrived, I was really concerned it wouldn’t live up to the hype. I read mixed reviews online, and heard many people say it was somewhat immersive, requiring concentration and effort to keep everyone and everything in order. It took me two months to pick it up and decide to finish it, and when I did, it was absolutely worth it.
I feel like starting with the obvious, that this is a fantasy novel, written by a Nigerian-American woman about a female main character in a magical world unlike anything we have seen and what set somewhere we don’t have magical stories set, is the best place to begin. I absolutely adored such a fresh and unique take on a saturated YA market. Adeyemi has managed to infuse a culture I know shockingly little about into a well known story, that of a young girl finding her feet and following her destiny. It’s rich with a mixture of other-worldly elements and African influences, meshing to create a wonderfully interesting main character and a brilliant world through which the story is told.
I really don’t want to say that readers of YA fiction aren’t able to truly embrace story telling outside of their culture, or outside of their genres norms, but I feel like the unique storytelling that Adeyemi achieves plays a large part in the reviews that people have given, consciously or subconsciously. It is not a difficult premise to follow, in fact, it’s wonderfully simple and elegantly crafted. It is here that many readers become unstuck and say it’s hard to follow, however, I would argue it’s not hard if you suspend disbelief like you would with any fantasy novel and it’s actually the fact that this is an alien culture and concept to many people. It does not fit many of the YA fantasy genres or tropes and I feel like many readers and reviewers haven’t reconciled themselves with this enough to suspend disbelief and enjoy the novel.
The relationships at the heart of this story are ones that have been seen before, but within this story feel brilliantly new. Zélie is fierce and she is bold and she is everything that I wish I was and want to read about. She has gone through heartbreak and disaster and she comes out the other side with a strong sense of loyalty to her friends and family, she has a heritage that she lives her life through, and she bestows knowledge, loyalty, and friendship on those around her that she deems worthy. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I won’t delve far into the relationships between her and Amari, and between her and Inan, but they’re simultaneously complex and simple and drive the story in a powerful way.
It’s great to see the story from the point of view of Zélie, the story revolves around her choices and her path, but it is from the point of view of Amari and Inan that the novel comes to life. It’s a common trope within YA books, but this multi-perspective story is n to their to sow the seeds of a romantic tryst. We feel Amari grow and develop and see the world through her eyes. We don’t know Orïsha and neither does she, so discovering this magical land full of clans and maji is learning without telling and for me was wonderfully done. Inan is a classic tortured soul, but rather than dwelling on this, we see him battle his demons (his father, his true nature, his thoughts of his sister and of Zélie) and instead of sitting back and acting like a spoilt Prince, we see him fight and we are given a window into his mind as he makes hard decisions.
This story is the beginning of a longer series of novels set in Orïsha about these characters. There is a world to establish, clans and lineage to explore, a magic and it’s laws to introduce, and to do this well takes time. Yes, at point the book felt like it could have progressed quicker whilst in the moment, but looking back, the time and the elegance of the world development and the storytelling has meant that this is not something that doesn’t have the legs for a series. There is a strong foundation to build from and the story feels like it has only just begun, a key point when beginning a new fantasy or YA series.
I loved it, I really did, and I think the hype was 100% worth it. I can’t wait for the second instalment already!