This book showed up on several lists of anticipated books of 2018. I added it to my own list because I was in the mood for a Young Adult (YA) story. This is not a dystopian YA story, which is a good thing.
This is the story of a country in what appears to be an African-like continent, where magic has been eradicated (or has it??), and the people who used magic were almost wiped out. Their descendants are an oppressed people who are shunned, ostracized and brutalized by the current regime. They are often used as servants/slaves to the upper classes, including the royal family. This purging of magic took place about 11 years ago. Of course, our young heroine, Zelie, is descended from magic users, and the story focuses on her discovering her destiny to bring magic back.
You can definitely pick out the epic fantasy influences. There’s the hero’s journey, where Zelie denies her destiny, then accepts it. There’s the loss of the wise mentor. There is also the formation of the rag tag group of heroes who will help her on her journey. There are tales of gods, wars, magical objects, and of course romance. There are references to places with similar names to ours (Britaunis, Porltoganes, etc.) This is definitely the same way in which more traditional fantasy infuses medieval English or French cultural influences into the world building. There is also the use of the Yoruba language that lends even more grounding in cultures here on our own earth.
What this story does so well, is dramatizing a real underlying sense of fear, hate and oppression. There is a heavy sense throughout the book of the depths of hate and intolerance and the lengths people will go to in order to oppress those who are different. The hate and animosity runs deep, and some characters are overcome by it, while others clearly struggle to rationalize what has been done to the magic users, all in the name of protecting the people. The Author’s Note at the end of the book gives more insight into how this story reflects modern day issues.
I have a few nitpicks, but the one I will mention here is the setting, or timing of the current story. I would’ve liked this story to take place maybe another generation or two from the eradication of magic. Seeing how wounded this society would be after so many years, would make the stakes a bit higher. How would the descendants of the magic users feel? Would they have sided with their oppressors and believed that magic was bad? Would they mostly be in hiding? Everything seemed so new and raw. I would like to have seen the toll this event has taken on the society, another generation or two later.
Overall, this is a very engaging story, with characters you can root for. There is so much more to this story, so I am looking forward to part two!
Lilypad rating: 1/2