In Jordan Ifueko’s début African-fantasy novel, a young girl, Tarisai of Swana, spends her early life preparing for a mammoth task:  to become a member of the Crown Prince’s Council of Eleven – a council bound together by the power of the Ray. A second task, bestowed by magic on Tarisai by her mysterious mother, requires her to kill the prince.

Raybearer is the first instalment in a sweeping epic that encompasses tribalism, mysticism, magic and political machinations, with over-arching themes of belonging, identity and loyalty.

The story, however, struggles and creaks under its lofty aspirations. Too much exposition is employed, especially as it barrels towards its climax, creating jarring changes in pace and suspense. The first-person narrative creates problems for the author, requiring characters to utter forced proclamations in front of Tarasai.  Most frustrating of all was a lack of proper foreshadowing which led to a feeling of deus ex machina at certain key events.

Raybearer is an ambitious effort that doesn’t quite deliver on its intriguing premise.