STARRED REVIEW
July 01, 2020

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin

By Roseanne A. Brown
Review by
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Malik is a refugee. Karina is a princess. Both long to escape the circumstances of their lives. They’re set on a collision course when Malik makes a deal with the power-hungry spectre that kidnaps his little sister: He must kill Princess Karina to ensure his sister’s safe return.

Unbeknownst to Malik, however, Karina is also on a deadly mission. Her relationship with her mother, the queen, hasn’t been the same since the deaths of her father and beloved sister in a fire; now her mother’s only remaining heir, Karina finds the pressure to live up to her sister’s example, to be the perfect future queen, unbearable.

When the queen is assassinated on the eve of the empire’s Solastasia festival, Karina embarks on a dark quest to resurrect her, but in order to complete the spell, she must obtain the heart of a king. With no other surviving members of the royal family, Karina sets her sights on the winner of a series of competitions held during the festival—competitions from which an unlikely champion, a refugee named Malik, is emerging.

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin is the lush debut novel from author Roseanne A. Brown, who was born in Ghana and immigrated to the United States as a child. It’s a supernatural love story inspired by West African folklore and dripping in political commentary and modern parallels. Border wall? Check. Police raids? Check. Class warfare and dishonest governments? Check and double check.


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Roseanne A. Brown shares how she felt when she learned her book was going to be published.


Brown places Karina and Malik front and center, each chapter alternating between their perspectives. As they uncover long buried secrets and reveal hidden cruelties in their world, Brown raises the stakes of her storytelling far beyond the typical YA fantasy-romance, exploring the ways in which we all have a responsibility to right the wrongs of injustice—and the tools to do so.

In this first book of a planned duology, Brown digs in to world building right away. Ancient sorcerers, shadowy spirit creatures and venerable deities doesn’t even begin to cover it. Every page is packed with cinematic detail and symbols that evoke the Pan-African diaspora, from a mischievous griot who mesmerizes passersby with clever storytelling to decorative masks depicting patron deities that adorn the palace walls. Brown effortlessly transports readers to the vibrant world of the Ziranian empire.

Even more impressive, however, are Brown’s characters, who serve as grounding forces that keep her tale from getting bogged down in its own arcana, no matter how fantastical. Malik is a refugee, but not just a refugee. He’s self-conscious around the other competitors, who hail from far more privileged backgrounds, and worries constantly that his status as a refugee will be revealed, endangering him and his family. But he’s also a skilled storyteller who’ll do anything to protect his family. Similarly, Karina is a princess, but not just a princess. She’s a musician who longs to escape the confines and expectations of royal life and is still processing the traumatic loss of her father and sister.

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin is an ambitious epic of political justice cleverly wrapped in the trappings of a love story. It’s so skillful and effortlessly accomplished that it’s hard to believe it’s Brown’s first book.

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A Song of Wraiths and Ruin

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin

By Roseanne A. Brown
Balzer + Bray
ISBN 9780062891495

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