Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers and her growing feelings for an enemy.


This is one of those books that I don’t think I’ve heard a ton about it, but I’ve seen it around a lot and I know it’s gotten some hype. So it’s been on my list of books to read. However, for some reason I always thought it was about something else until I sat down to read it.

Disclaimer, I don’t usually read book reviews until after I’ve written my book review so that my opinion isn’t swayed by others. However this is one of those books that I did read the reviews on Goodreads before writing this.

There were some parts I was confused about and needed clarification. I also was really curious what other people thought about the world building and wanted to get some second opinions on those.

I am really excited to see that this book was written by a Black author, which is something I’ve been seeking out more this summer. I think Black authors deserve more recognition and so this was a great book to read.

This book was really good, I read it in about two days although finishing the ending took me a little bit longer. For some reason, about 3/4 of the way though, I started getting disinterested. I think it was in part because it was really late at night and I needed to return this book to the library the next day. But also it’s a really long book.

The World Building

I’m of the opinion that America focuses a lot of Greek and Roman mythology stories and that there are a lot of other really great cultures and mythologies to pull from. One of the places I would love to see more stories from is Africa.

Africa is such a huge continent with so many different cultures and beliefs. I think it isn’t represented as often as it should be. And so the fact that this book is set in a fantasy version of Africa was really awesome to me to see.

That being, it was also one of the big reasons I read book reviews from Black readers and African readers before writing this review. I really wanted their insight into this world building.

Although I think she did a great job representing African culture in it, my suspicions that the place names are based off of actual towns and places in Nigeria was correct. As a reader, I’m not really sure how I feel about real place names being used for fictional towns and landmarks.

I think it would have been more believable and less jarring if the author had created her own names instead.

The opinions of the other readers seemed to be that the worldbuilding left a lot to be desired for them from a Black and African standpoint. I don’t think it seemed like it was whitewashed, however I believe some people mentioned that the magic system could have held more Nigerian roots.

I believe some of this was due to writing an Nigerian based story for readers here in America who aren’t very familiar with it. So in order not to confuse too many people, she mixed some Western ideas in with it.

I still really enjoyed the magic system within the story although there were a couple of things I wish could have been explained better. I think it would have been cool to see some of the spells and chants written out instead of just told about them.

I’m glad that a glossary was included because there were times where I couldn’t remember what specific words and phrases meant. Or I got them confused with other ones.

Themes

I read the author’s note at the end of the story and I appreciate that this story was partly inspired by all the BLM protests and events. And that she wanted to do her part to help shed light on the issues the Black community faces through this book.

I think race is really important to talk about and I personally think Adeyemi did a great job with it. However I am white so I can’t say for sure, ya know?

A couple of people commented that they weren’t pleased with Adeyemi’s choices for describing their hair and the symbolism behind it. However I saw that Zélie’s hair getting curly throughout the book was in a way a celebration of her embracing her magic and a metaphor for embracing her strength as a Black woman.

The Characters

I thought that Zélie was a great protagonist. She was likable but also felt pretty realistic. She messed up a lot but took responsibility for her actions, most of the time.

There were some main plot points around her decisions I couldn’t really agree with, they just seemed a bit forced and not very realistic.

However, I also thought that she was almost too stubborn at times and seemed to place herself into a category I didn’t like. Almost pretentious? She just hated our other protagonist woman so much for the majority of the story. Given her background though, it makes sense.

I enjoyed having her brother, Tanzir there for the story. I love seeing siblings bonding in stories, especially ones of similar ages. Too often I think YA gives these big age gaps in stories where it’s hard to relate to.

I know a lot of people who are closer in age to their siblings rather than far apart.

I thought that their sibling relationship was pretty believable, it reminded me a lot of how my brother and I act with each other.

To contrast, there was also the sibling relationship between Princess Amari and Crown Prince Inan. I thought their relationship was an interesting parallel to Tanzir and Zeli. They loved each other, but Inan was still so wrapped up in his quest.

Amari I think grew the most as a character in the story. She was naive but also ready to risk her life. Her origin story wasn’t the most believable to me though. Even though she dearly loved her best friend and servant, her motives didn’t make the most sense to me. Like, she was probably in shock when she stole the scroll and escaped but for someone who was so sheltered beforehand to just suddenly do that seemed a bit weird to me.

Also other reviewers felt the same on this, but I really thought this was going to be a LBTQ+ romance but the chemistry between Zeli and Amari was ON FIRE. I would not have been surprised if they had started making out later on in the book. So I really felt like it was a missed opportunity here to have more representation. And I’m curious to know if the author realizes how it comes off or not.

And the character I’m the MOST conflicted on is Inan. I thought his characterization was great until towards the like 1/4th of the book. He was conflicted, wanted to do what he thought was right, but had this deep internal struggle when he realized he was turning into what his father hated.

However, I think it all came crashing down when he started working with Zeli. First of all, there was the massive insta-love and then to make it worse…

SPOILERS

He betrays them?

I guess it was a great plot twist, maybe the whole insta-love was fake. But I was entirely lost the entire last 1/4th of the book.

Not to mention that he JUST DISAPPEARS in the last couple of chapters with no explanation?

I had to go through reviews for a long time to find someone else mention this and explain that he probably just went off to heal his wounds, but like…I was SO CONFUSED.

It was satisfying in the end though to see no matter how hard he tried to please his father, ultimately, his father turned out to be a real villain and wouldn’t accept him. I’m interested to see how that affects him in the next book.

Plot

For me, the biggest points driving this book were the world building and the plot. The plot in of itself was pretty great. I thought it moved well, made sense (until the last 1/4th of the book, the last 150 pages or so).

It started off strong, the middle kept moving, but the ending although theatrically strong, didn’t make the most sense to me.

However, it was still good and kept me reading.

Overall

I think this is a debut novel and for one, it’s pretty good. It’s also THICK. And I personally love long novels. Originally when I rated this, I gave it 4 stars but now that I’ve been thinking about it, I think I’m going to give it 3 stars.

The book was really good and I did really like it, however the ending had some plot holes to it, seemed a bit rush, and the characters missed the mark. They were good on their own, but some of it really made me second guess things.

Mostly Inan actually. Let’s be real.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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