Rating: 4/5 Stars
This will be a spoiler-free review.
Let’s get this out of the way first: Was this a good book? Yes, absolutely. Was it worth the hype? Ehh…
In my genuine opinion, this book wasn’t anything super unique or special. It had all of the regular YA fantasy tropes, just packaged in an African-inspired fantasy world. Which, trust me, I’m not trying to claim is bad. I love my YA tropes. I use them all the time in my own writing. I’m just saying, this book was marketed as something super new and unique and never seen before, which… Well, it just wasn’t those things. But with that said, let’s get into the actual review.
I always like to start with the things I really liked about a book, and fortunately there’s a lot for me to cover today. My favorite part by far was the world building, which makes sense since that was the most hyped thing about this book. The fact that the world was African-inspired was pretty dang cool, and I could definitely pick up on where that inspiration came into play, but it wasn’t even the best thing about the world building. There were so many more great elements, like the magic system and how it tied into their religion, as well as the inclusion of colorism in the culture of this world. Overall, the world building was done in a way that made the kingdom of Orïsha feel rich and full of life. It was easy for me to suspend my disbelief for hours at a time and fall into the world.
I also found myself drawn in by the characters that this novel followed. Zélie, one of the three POV characters and the main protagonist, was a delight. I quickly grew to admire her bold and impulsive personality, and I especially loved her relationship with her brother, Tzain. In fact, I almost wish Adeyemi had spent more time exploring their relationship, and hope she does so in future novels. I also enjoyed Amari, the second POV character and protagonist. Following her journey and watching her grow as a character was a lot of fun, and her relationships with her brother, her father, and Zélie were all dynamic and kept me on the edge of my seat. I was also fascinated by King Saran, and I almost wish that we’d been able to learn more about him and his hatred of the maji in this book. Though I can’t elaborate on what exactly I would like to know without getting into spoilers, I will say that I hope there are still some things to be revealed in future books.
I was also very impressed with the ending of this book. The pacing and tension were spot-on, culminating nicely at the climax, and… Well, that’s all I can say while keeping spoiler-free. Gosh, this book, more than any other that I’ve reviewed, is so hard to write a spoiler-free review about. I just want to rant and rave and shout spoilers from the rooftops.
Finally, I thought Adeyemi’s writing was strong as well. Her choice of POV characters was perfect. Some authors include unnecessary POVs that clutter up the narrative, but she didn’t fall into this trap. Instead, she only used the POVs of characters whose perspectives were imperative to telling the story fully. She also included some nice imagery, telling just enough to paint a full picture without weighing down the prose with too much description.
This book wasn’t perfect, though. Although there were a lot of great things about it, there were also a few things I thought Adeyemi could have done better that would have improved the quality of the novel. First, a few of the character and story arcs felt all over the place. Inan, the third POV character, suffered from this the most. While I did enjoy where his arc ended–I thought it made the story dynamic–the journey to get there was chaotic. His changing attitudes about magic gave me whiplash with how often they shifted, and I never thought his reasons for changing his mind felt sincere or made total sense. It felt very convenient, like the only reason his attitudes changed at all was because the story required it. The romantic arc he was involved in also felt off. It felt rushed and forced, like Adeyemi had to make the romance happen for the sake of the plot even though there was no way to make it happen naturally. I think, if she had stretched both arcs out over multiple books, they would have worked a lot better. In fact, if these arc issues hadn’t existed, I probably would have rated the book 4.5 stars. Unfortunately, they were too prominent for me to ignore or let slide.
Another issue I had was that, while the world building was really great, there were a few small things that felt very out-of-place in this world Adeyemi built. Some phrases, like “Check this out” felt too modern and took me out of the story. Also, the use of the word “hell” felt odd when the religion in this world was very distinctly non-Christian. In fact, at one point Zélie uses the word “hell” when describing their version of the afterlife, which was confusing.
The final problem I had with this book was actually a problem I also encountered in the novel Zenith by Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings. This is the over-use of similes; specifically, similes that refer to animals and objects that the reader is unfamiliar with. The only animal that Adeyemi ever describes from this world is the Lionaire. After this, she only references others without describing them. So when she says someone “ran as fast as a Cheetanaire” or that someone’s smile was “sly as a Foxer”, we can’t really envision that because we don’t know what these things are. Sure, we can assume they’re bigger, stranger versions of their namesakes from our world, but we don’t really know for sure. And, even putting all of that aside, there were just too many similes. I mean, I can admire the well-placed simile or metaphor–one that really helps the reader to envision something–but when they’re used too often and aren’t easy to understand, all they do is take the reader out of the story.
In the end, though, this book was a fun read. Adeyemi created a colorful world full of interesting characters and a unique magic system. I would recommend this book to anybody who enjoys high fantasy worlds, strong female characters, and action-packed, edge-of-your-seat climaxes.