This is a first novel from J. Elle, and one of the first fantasy novels from Simon and Schuster’s Denene Millner Books line, described on her web site as “a love letter to children of color who deserve to see their beauty and humanity in the most remarkable form of entertainment on the planet: books.” Wings of Ebony may not be the most original fantasy ever, making free reinterpretation of tropes we have all seen before. But it has the thing that I look for above all else in young adult fantasy novels: a unique and powerful voice.
The first-person narrator of the story, Rue Jelani, grew up in Houston’s East Row neighborhood (as did J. Elle), but was forced to leave her home after her Moms’s murder. She was taken away by her estranged father, something she still bitterly resents a year later, even though he turned out to be a powerful mage (but the only Black one) in a magical world called Ghizon. For Rue, the powers she gained, parceled out reluctantly by a world where she is an outsider, can never make up for the home and people she lost. Then she discovers the connection between her two worlds, and must learn to use her magic to fight the oppression she finds in both places.
Rue is a wonderful character; all attitude and slang (but very little profanity), and full of a fierce caring for the people she considers her “fam.” She proves to be willing to change her mind when necessary, and able to work to change the minds of others. Her conversations with her white Ghizoni friend Bri, are valuable reading for those of us who are trying to be anti-racist. The conclusion involves some obvious similarities to events in Minneapolis last summer, moved into a fantasy setting where they are rather more effective than they were here. The book is dedicated, on its final page, to George Floyd