Can we talk about this cover? Isn't it gorgeous and amazing? I was just completely drawn in. Didn't even read the synopsis on the dust jacket. Just picked it up and paid for it. And then it sat on my bookshelf for several months. And then one day I picked it up and it sort of ushered in this reinvigorated phase of reading for this summer.
I think I referenced this thing about my new-ish cyclical reading style. I start out the year pretty good, knock out an above average reading pace, and then March hits and I'm like, "Nah. No reading for me!". That sticks for a while, and then I'm out of it.
This story though, I couldn't stop thinking about it.
The writing is vivid. The world created for these characters is visceral and interesting. They travel through several different climates and villages. Each is unique and separate in my mind still. The animals are given these fantastical names and are like hybrids of creatures we do know. There is a whole economic system that you get to see different aspects of. Big cities, small towns, desert encampments, hideouts for thieves. It's just, a whole big thing. And the page count reflects that.
This fictional world is shattered by the eradication of magic. We open to a scene of Zélie, along with other "maggots" (a slur used throughout the book to refer to the people marked to be maji) training with Mama Agba in secret to defend themselves. Their training is interrupted by soldiers demanding another tax. We soon discover that the monarchy overtaxes and over-incarcerates descendants of the maji. Though magic is no longer present in Orïsha, there is still a strong presence of hate toward the people marked to be vessels for magic due to generations of them being treated as a separate class. The main marker for a maji is their white hair. We find out fairly early on that the king of Orïsha committed a genocide on the maji of his kingdom when Zélie was a child. As the story progresses his fear and hate are laid out as more and more irrational. His tendency to violence, and raising his children to default to violence, along with the dehumanization of the maji push this book into the zone of fierce current cultural commentary. This novel is definitely influenced by the Black Lives Matter movement and is unafraid to deal with the racism and classism that go along with that.
The fantasy themes draw heavily on West African mythology. And the maji society is centered around a matriarchal power structure. There are male maji, but the female maji in this story lead the way. The gods and goddesses of the story (each gifting humans with a certain type of magic, all drawn from the mother goddess) weave in truly beautiful moments to the story.
Zélie has a lot of the typical headstrong characteristics of a teenage lead in a YA novel. And her brother acts as a foil to most of her actions. So, there is much about their relationship I would consider a standard narrative device. There is also the typical team-up of unexpected partners and ever-increasing discovery of self throughout the story. In other words, there are a lot of pieces you would expect from this story, but the settings and the characters have so much LIFE to them that the expected parts don't take away from the new and exciting parts.
All in all, this is a really great book. It sets up a really fantastic world and covers a lot of ground throughout the story. Also, this story completes its main action while still offering a really great cliffhanger style ending.
I think one of my favourite things that happened related to this book was about a week or so ago a friend messaged me to see if I'd read it because she thought it was perfect for me. She was listening to the audiobook version, which I've heard is really fantastic. So, if you're looking for those to try out, you can add this one to the list. Also, don't you love when other people get your reading style and find lovely gems for you? What's the last book someone suggested for you that was right in your wheelhouse?