So much story, so little book! It seems churlish to demand more from what’s already a terrific novel, but I really do feel that the tale of Empress Redemptor Tarisai and the land of Aritsar would have been better served by more chapters and more details. 300+ pages simply wasn’t enough, and so much felt elided in Tarisai’s struggle to make the realm’s rulers love her in the process of saving Aritsar and the neighboring nation of Songland from the demons of the underworld.
And, y’know, given the demands of YA publishing, I don’t fault Jordan Ifueko at all for what feels less like a novel than a concise, if still lively, history. Besides the historical milestones, Ms Ifueko keeps in all the most important parts: Tarisai’s guilt and anxiety, and how that contrasts with the methods of others, particularly Zuri, in seeking redemption, with an ending that is straight up brilliant. The writing packs so much information and adventure and emotion into so little space. But while I can admire the literary equivalent of a beautifully composed planter’s box, I can’t help being baffled by what feels like an artificial constraint, particularly when there’s so much metaphorical space around for it to expand. And, again, I don’t think this is Ms Ifueko’s fault at all: if anything, she should be applauded for writing something so brilliant in so few pages and so little time (it’s only been a year since its excellent predecessor Raybearer came out, after all!) Nevertheless, this feels like an accomplishment that denies its potential in favor of encapsulation instead.
Anyway, this book picks up from Raybearer as Tarisai must scramble to complete the pact she’s just made with the denizens of the Underworld, anointing the rulers of the realms as her council while trying to figure out how exactly she’s going to survive her own descent as the final Redemptor. While she’s trying to figure all this out, she’s haunted by visitations? hallucinations? of past children sacrificed to maintain Aritsar’s prosperity and peace. The guilt threatens to drive her mad, and throws her anxiety into overdrive, especially as she sees how no one else seems to care about the sins of the past as much as she does. It’s all heady, weighty stuff — with easy-to-discern and, more importantly, relevant real-world analogs — and Ms Ifueko competently addresses everything, often movingly. I cried at least twice.
And yet, and yet. While Tarisai’s anxiety and guilt are fully realized, not much else is. It starts from the disaster of Thaddace’s escape — understandably, Tarisai goes numb after that. But the numbness infuses everything else, so that this book feels much less lived in than its predecessor, as if a thin skin of ice separates us from truly inhabiting the world of the book. Raybearer is a hard act to follow, and I feel that given a greater investment of time, Redemptor could have been a breathtaking sequel. As it is, it’s just really, really good, which is better than most books out on the market today, but still falls short of what I know Ms Ifueko is capable of.
Y’all should still read this remarkable novel, tho. Obvi, don’t read this on its own, but I would recommend reading the duology in rapid sequence if that’s a possibility for you.
Redemptor by Jordan Ifueko was published today August 17 2021 by Amulet Books and is available from all good booksellers, including