A twelve year old Black girl goes from normal Chicago South Side pre-teen to staff-wielding “godling” when she discovers that her father is an Orisha, a god, and that he’s been captured by another god and taken to The Dark.
That’s a heck of a way to start summer vacation.
Maya and the other child characters in Maya and the Rising Dark by Rena Barron are solidly twelve, sometimes afraid and willing to go to adults for help, and sometimes stubbornly unwilling to admit when something is probably out of their reach. The characters are majority minority, and South Side is represented as what it is — a place where there are risks above and beyond losing a bicycle. Maya’s not facing down the standard risks of Chicago, though. She’s facing down a god from millennia ago who is nursing a grudge against her father and planning to destroy all of Earth and its humanity to exact his revenge.
Maya is also anemic, which, well, it’s important for kids to see that even if they are half-god, they can get anemia…. and that even if they have anemia, they can save the world.
I, on the other hand, am a 44 year old white woman from rural Pennsylvania where the likes of David Eddings and other “traditional white high fantasy” authors made up the bulk of my library. I’ve been raised so far from the African mythology in the book that I have to keep checking the spelling of Orisha to ensure that I haven’t messed it up. These gods and goddesses were definitely not available for me at age 12, and I am thrilled to see that they’re available now.
A bunch of elves and the like marching around to save the world, the ones that I was raised on? It’s been done to death.
A bunch of Chicago kids who were attacked by the forces of evil first, and who have to discover the magic that lies within them if they’re going to save their families and prevent a war? Kids and adults that regret death every time it occurs? The possibility that the Darkbringers on the other side of the veil are no different from the Humans on this side, when it comes to raising families and doing some farming and trying to live their lives? Not something we normally see.
Even the character most associated with pure evil has strong motivation for his revenge. Not enough for us to root for him, but enough for us as readers to recognize that there have been wrongs on both sides of the veil.
This is a wonderful addition to the middle-grade science fiction / fantasy canon, and I look forward to the next one in the series.