Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko (Raybearer, #1)
Queer Rep Summary: Closeted/Questioning Secondary Character(s), Ace/Aro Secondary Character(s).
Raybearer is a powerful and empathetic fantasy about what one does when it turns out the empire isn't perfect after all, for nothing good can be built on the pain of children.
This story plays with the line between and ill-informed narrator and an unreliable one, as I read it I had a steadily growing feeling that the world in the book was deeply wrong, that either the MC would double down on her cognitive dissonance, or else she must try to make things right. Either way, something had to give. I'm very pleased with how that was handled, I had enough hints of what was wrong in order to not feel lied to when the underpinnings were revealed and the MC was forced to reassess her goals and make a new path for herself.
I like the balance between secondary and minor characters, given that the MC becomes canonically close with a rather large group of people I think the choices made in who was fleshed out and who is more in the background worked well. It felt like a large group without overwhelming me with names and motivations to keep track of. I love the beginning and the middle, and I think the ending is good given that there's a planned sequel. A few components of the ending felt a bit rushed, but the finale feels suitably grand for the scale of the problems being addressed. It's also trying to balance competing story interests and I think it works overall. It had to have an appropriate resolution within the timeframe of the novel while still leaving room for the sequel to have something to pick up. It makes it very clear that the problems began before the MC entered the story, and that solving what she can will take time and effort, some important pieces of which happen in this volume.
This book is filled with care, choosing carefully which deep wounds and dark backstories require description and which are left to the reader's discretion and imagination. There are many plot elements which are built on adults having decided at some point that it was okay for children to suffer, but this is an ultimately and joyful and empowering book about reclaiming agency and making things better for the ones who come after. I eagerly await the sequel.
CW for sexism, mental illness, memory loss, child abuse, child death (not depicted), imperialism, gore, genocide, parental death, major character death, death.
Clear Your Shit Readathon 2020 prompt: Shiny cover