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A dark, gritty urban fantasy debut set in modern-day San Francisco, filled with gods, sinister government agencies, and worlds of dark magic hidden just below the surface.

When a secret government agency trying to enslave you isn’t the biggest problem you’re facing, you’re in trouble.

Erik, a former teen star living in San Francisco, thought his life was complicated; having his ex-boyfriend in jail because of the scandal that destroyed his career seemed overwhelming. Then Erik learned he was Blooded: descended from the Gods.

Struggling with a power he doesn’t understand and can barely control, Erik discovers that a secret government agency is selling off Blooded like lab rats to a rival branch of preternatural beings in ’Zebub—San Francisco’s mirror city in an alternate dimension.

Lil, a timid apprentice in ’Zebub, is searching for answers to her parents’ sudden and mysterious deaths. Surrounded by those who wish her harm and view her as a lesser being, Lil delves into a forgotten history that those in power will go to dangerous lengths to keep buried.

What neither Erik nor Lil realize is that a darkness is coming, something none have faced in living memory. It eats. It hunts. And it knows them. In The Root, the dark and surging urban fantasy debut from Na’amen Tilahun, two worlds must come together if even a remnant of one is to survive.

411 pages, Paperback

First published June 7, 2016

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Na'amen Gobert Tilahun

8 books62 followers

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5 stars
64 (39%)
4 stars
47 (28%)
3 stars
27 (16%)
2 stars
22 (13%)
1 star
4 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 45 reviews
Profile Image for Monica **can't read fast enough**.
1,033 reviews335 followers
August 31, 2016
Tilahun has created a unique world that features diverse characters and fantastical otherworldly beings that are so out there that I had trouble visualizing what they looked like. There were creatures that were translucent blobs and even beings that are covered in eyes. These creatures also had unique ways of communicating which encompassed everything from grunting to wind currents. I found those characteristics a bit much, but that is purely personal preference.

I absolutely loved that the main characters are ethnically, racially, and sexually diverse. Gender, race, and sexuality do not define the characters and there are no stereotypical characterizations to be found here. The diversity is simply part of more realistic reflection of the diversity of the world we live in. Erik's problems do not all stem from the fact that he's gay, but rather from the fact that his father wanted to control the trajectory of his career and didn't put any emphasis on what Erik wanted for himself. Erik's family dynamics and his heritage are part of the background in book one, but it is clear that they will become more significant as his powers continue to manifest and strengthen as the series progresses.

San Francisco's parallel city is Zebub and I enjoyed the corresponding storyline that is developing there. Lil is thrust into the role of sole caregiver for her younger siblings after a horrific incident. Lil is left struggling to juggle her responsibilities to her Holder mentor while having to become the adult and provider for her family. Lil is also manifesting powers and abilities that are surprising to her mentor as well as herself, which causes her problems with many people around her. There's a darkness that is slowly consuming her world and Lil is caught up in the fight to stop it.

Although I really enjoyed the plot of this story, my inability to fully visualize the alternate world and the creatures that inhabit it made it difficult for me to fully immerse myself into the story. I had to pause several times and reread descriptions in order to picture the beings being described and I'm still not sure that I have it right. However, I enjoyed the plot enough that I will grab book two when it is released. I just hope that I will be able to get a better grip on the world being built by Tilahun because the overall story is very good!

You can find more from me at
•(♥).•*Monlatable Book Reviews*•.(♥)•
Profile Image for Kit (Metaphors and Moonlight).
886 reviews123 followers
August 18, 2018
4 Stars

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher. This has not influenced my review.*

This book was a refreshing, diverse urban fantasy story that managed to stand out while still capturing the kick-butt, monster-fighting essence that I think many readers look for in the UF genre!

First let's talk about our protagonist, Erik. In this book, there are people who are Blooded---descendants of old, powerful beings and have powers based on their bloodline. Erik is one such person. He's a berserker, and a fairly unusual one for how he's able to think and calculate while fighting instead of just losing himself to the rage. I loved the berserker aspect because it's a familiar power, but one you don't see often. I also just liked Erik himself. He was clever and a good person who wanted to help others, but he was still imperfect enough to be realistic.

The other main character was Lil, a human in another realm. I didn't connect to her quite as much because she was very serious and stoic, but she was smart and capable and hardworking and cared a lot about her siblings and about saving her world from the darkness.

But talking about the characters brings me to my one real issue with this book: too many POVs---twenty in total. Jumping around so much makes it harder for me to sink into a story and to get to know any of the characters well. It was also hard to keep track of whose head I was in sometimes. That being said, some of them were only a page or two out of the entire book, which meant we got more from the main characters. Also, the POVs were clearly separated. So I still thought the book was good; I just think it could've been better, and I could've connected to the characters more, with fewer POVs. I know I'm not the only one who dislikes too many POVs, but my advice is to not let this stop you from giving the book a chance if it otherwise sounds like something you'd like.

Back to positive things now... there was so much diversity/inclusivity! Two Black main characters, at least one of whom was gay. And there were more POC and queer characters scattered throughout the story and the worlds, including Asian, non-binary, trans, lesbian, bi, and more. I was confused by changing pronouns sometimes (e.g. one character was sometimes 'they', sometimes 'he', but in that character's POV it was 'ze'), but maybe some of them just used multiple pronouns. The story also touched upon things like racism and homophobia.

The world-building for the other realm was unique and interesting with other beings and magic and a different society. I maybe didn't quite understand everything about it, but I understood enough to enjoy it. I especially loved how not-human some of the beings were. Some were clouds of mist, or tunnels of sand, or a wheel of flesh covered in eyes. Some communicated with smells and other senses rather than any sort of spoken language. And Arel and Jagi's POV chapters were a surprising hit for me because I loved learning more about their... species? Like how they had openings on their body where they could extend or retract tentacles, and they could communicate with each other in a more nuanced and private way by entwining their tentacles with each others'. The world-building for our world was cool too with different characters having different powers.

As for the plot, it had some of the action and fight scenes you'd expect, but it was more about Erik coming into his powers and learning about the supernatural, Lil navigating the dangerous political landscape of the Ruling Courts while trying to find a way to stop the deadly darkness, and various other characters and their plans and machinations.

Overall, though I did have an issue with too many POVs, I loved the diversity, the creativity of the magic and creatures, and the refreshingly different urban fantasy story, and I feel invested enough that I want to continue the series!

Recommend For:
Anyone who likes urban fantasy, POC and LGBT+ characters, interesting not-human beings, other realms, and a wide range of POVs.

Original Review @ Metaphors and Moonlight


Initial Thoughts:
Diverse, refreshing urban fantasy! Full review soon.
Profile Image for Devann.
2,434 reviews134 followers
August 1, 2020
DNF @ 33%

I've been putting off this book for ages because it's so long but I read a few chapters and loved Erik immediately so I thought it would be okay, unfortunately I just cannot power my way through this whole book based on that alone. There are so many unnecessary different POVs, it feels like every single character gets a POV chapter and I think all you REALLY need are the two main characters since they are there for pretty much every scene anyway. Anyway this book is just way too long [130k words whyyy] for me to keep on with considering that I only even really like one of the characters and am not really keeping up with all the world building and parallel universe stuff. If this was a straight up urban fantasy with Erik as the only narrator I think this would be entirely up my alley but as it is there is just way too much going on.
Profile Image for ~Cyanide Latte~.
1,292 reviews86 followers
August 14, 2021
I gotta say, I wasn't sure what to expect going into this, and it didn't hook me right away, but once it did, it was totally worth it! I think for once I'm glad that I took longer to read through a book. In addition to switching between two different dimensional settings, we have multiple perspective switches within each dimension, and I think the fact it took me close to two months to read through this benefited that. It might have been a bit too much to really absorb all at once if I'd tried reading through it faster than I did.

Presently, I'm not going to add any more to this review, because I feel like anything I might cover in here is going to be spoilers. The summary given for the book is a very excellent groundwork to have going into it, and I think you should be flying blind past that point. Otherwise it might overwhelm most readers before they even get started. But I do promise you, this book is 100% worth it!
Profile Image for Matt Beams.
22 reviews1 follower
July 24, 2016
This is an incredibly interesting, smart, and fun-to-read book. I found it on the Afro-Futurist table at Bluestockings Bookstore in NYC, and I was embarrassed as someone who loves reading, sci-fi, and spec fic, and who tries to be woke, that I had never heard of Afro-futurism. Well, I read the back and looked at the cover, and was sold.

I'm not going to tell you about the plot really, but if you like magic, fantasy, intrigue, action, adventure, flirting, parallel worlds, a different way of looking at things, or just plain fun, then you should pick up this book.

Also, the book is filled with queer and trans characters who are just going about their lives seamlessly woven into the fabric of the book. What I mean by that, for example, is there's a character who turns out to be trans. There's no announcement of it, merely notice of it when he's getting dressed, by a description of what he's wearing. I'm sure there are lots of books like this, but this is the first one (!) I've ever read with a trans character as merely a part of the story not as the focus or worse as the villain (don't get me started on Helen Oyeyemi's wretched ending of _Boy, Snow, Bird_.

I can't recommend this book enough. And, the author was even gracious enough to tweet back at me that part two will be out June 2017!

Read it!
Profile Image for Anya.
763 reviews168 followers
May 30, 2016
Omg this book is so amazing! The worlds are complex and fascinating, the magic is unique and terrifying, the creatures are even more unique and terrifying, and the cast of characters is so diverse they actually reflect the real world! If you are looking for fantasy with astounding world-building, characters you will love, and the diversity that is sorely lacking in genre fiction, don't miss The Root.
Profile Image for Sarah.
225 reviews
April 27, 2017
I loved every moment of this book! I can't even write a proper review, I can only squeeeeee.

highlights: incredible world building
dynamic characters
excellent use of shifting perspectives
hella queer ❤❤
hella brown and black
sick ass monsters (not monsters?)
action packed!!!
moving as hell (I cried in a pizza parlor)

I am eager for the second book in the series. Cannot wait but sadly must wait.
Profile Image for Isaac.
155 reviews50 followers
September 26, 2021
-3.5 stars
-Pretty great main characters.
-Arel and Jagi, and their relationship with the kids, were adorable.
-Really interesting worldbuilding.
-The creature designs are all very imaginative and different to anything else I've read.
-The plot was interesting, but a bit disjointed and fast.
-Erik's relationship with Daniel was fascinating, but the book doesn't really deal with it in a satisfactory manner.
-Modern day romance was a bit boring and lacked chemistry.
-Pretty interesting portrayal of the rage of marginalised people.
Profile Image for MsArdychan.
529 reviews20 followers
July 14, 2016
I first learned about The Root, by Na'amen Tilahun, at the Bay Area Book Festival in June of this year. I was attending a discussion about YA Fantasy and the author was on the panel.

Honestly, I was there to fangirl over Victoria Schwab, but I left being very excited by all the authors' books. Afterwards, there was a book signing, and I wound up getting The Root, A Gathering Of Shadows (V.E. Schwab), and A Natural History Of Dragons (Marie Brennan). I have finally had time to sit down and read the first of these books, The Root, and it is a fun, diverse, fantasy with parallel universes, secret organizations, and creepy creatures!

What I liked:


It was refreshing to read a book populated with so much diversity. There are gay characters, straight characters, people who are transgendered, and a rainbow of ethnicities. Living in the Bay Area where part of the book is set, I can tell you that this is not political correctness, this IS San Francisco. I also loved that they were fully-fleshed individuals with many aspects to their personas. Their gender, sexual preference, or ethnicity was not the only distinguishing characteristic. They were not treated as tokens, but as people!


I have to use the plural because there are two different universes in this book: Zebub and Earth. There are supposed to be mirrors of each other (or perhaps distant futures...). I didn't really see the similarities, but I did enjoy how unusual and exotic Zebub was from San Francisco. In Zebub, there are eleven courts and their palaces are called Hives. Each court seems to have a specific emphasis (The Court of Sorrow and Riches, The Court of Pain and Solitude etc.) and each palace is filled with eye-catching details such as special rooms or wall that are alive! When the action bounces to San Francisco, the author uses creepy industrial complexes and the towering skyscrapers of the Financial District to menacing effect.

Creepy Creatures:

I loved how creative Na'amen Tilahun got with the various creatures that populated Zebub. I can't fully describe many of them, but let's just say many don't resemble humans at all. I often think about this when I read books that are set on other planets or universes: why would the life-forms look anything like humans? Some of the creatures are gases, or collections of objects, others do look like animals we would recognize such as dragons, or giant insects. This was so well done in this book!

What I was mixed about:


The author obviously has a fertile imagination and a need to describe everything to the reader. But I found it confusing to keep track of the various factions, alliances, courts, and names (some of which were so similar, I was frustrated).

Perhaps a glossary at the end of the book would have been helpful to help me sort out who was who. So much was going on that did need explanations. But I think some of the details would have been better expressed on a need to know basis. It would have made for a faster-paced book.

Overall, there is so much to recommend in this novel: great characters, new worlds, alliances and betrayals... The end was a cliffhanger so I hope that the next book comes out soon. I will be eager to read it.
60 reviews1 follower
June 15, 2016
The biggest problem with The Root is that the next book is nowhere near being out.
The biggest strength of The Root is... do I HAVE to pick? There's a lot to like.

Still, if I had to pick, it would be the way that despite an immense cast of POV characters, I cared out them, and I keep thinking about them after finishing the book. The Root does an impressive job of finding room for its wide cast to have complicated feelings and complicated lives with complicated families. I enjoyed the nascent friendships and romantic elements, but I love that family in all its complicated ways is so central to this story.

I appreciate that despite having a split narrative (something that often bugs me), I actually wanted to know what that other person saw or what was going in the other world. I like that the characters are generally sensible and when they do the wrong thing it's mostly for a good ( or at least intelligible ) reason. I like that despite a lot of "tada! Hypercompetent magically powered child of prophecy," Erik, Lil ( and everybody else ) have problems that feel real, important and not trivially susceptible to a five minute conversation and a punch or a muttered spell.

I enjoyed the extensive and intriguing world building though in a few places I felt like some of the cultural exposition could have been expanded.

Of course, all of the characters and their environments do not in themselves make a novel. They've got to interact, and I found the complex plots and counterplots compelling.

There is one minor heads up to go with all this love, which is that there is a good bit of (sometimes graphic) violence. I'm rather squeamish and still found that the violence was contextually appropriate (and plot relevant). I appreciated that it was not gratuitously sexualized. Still, it's a thing, and there are a few scenes that ... I won't know what I think about until I see how their knock-on effects are or aren't addressed in the next book.

In trying to explain The Root to the spouse, I've talked about Mary Gentle and Malinda Lo and Steven Universe... but really The Root is its own thing, and anything I say to describe it is probably misleading.

So go read it already!
Profile Image for Lisa.
787 reviews1 follower
June 6, 2017
Oh, man. I was so mad at myself when I finished this book because it is SO GOOD. And now I have to wait for the next book to come out and I hate having to wait. I'd rather start a series that is already finished, especially when it reaches the level of complexity this one has. On the other hand, would not mind re-reading this book because SO GOOD. Imperfect, but lovable characters. Beautiful, beautiful world building that I can see expanding beyond the scope of the book. Multi-race. Multi-gender identity. Multi-sexuality. And few to zero apologies for any of it.

Tilahun fearlessly plunges straight into how the world came about concepts and non-human cultures and then smashes those non-human cultures that have little respect for the humans that live among them right up against a version of our world. So delicious! I can see this book being classified as a teenager book because of the age of the characters. It does not deserve to have its audience limited like that. I would have loved this as a teenager and I clearly love it now.

I may. Have to buy each of the books in this series as they come out and wait for a really long time until its done to read them all at once. So let's hope neither the author nor I die while I'm waiting for this.
Profile Image for Alyssa Joy.
9 reviews
July 24, 2016
This book was incredible. It held unique fantasy aspects while also bringing in representation for identities typically left out of mainstream media, let alone fantasy. I could not put the book down, except to take moments to revel on how beautiful it was to read. I was drawn into the worlds and abilities of these characters that were connected into our own common mythos and religions. The characters are relatable and most other series would be lucky to have even one of them. I'm excited to see where the story goes as San Fransisco and Zebub finally start to collide.
Profile Image for Inda.
Author 8 books11 followers
October 30, 2017
As usual, I'll put a more detailed review on my blog but for now I'll say this: I can't wait until we get the film trilogy, mini-series, or TV show we deserve out of this.
Profile Image for Spracherwerb.
25 reviews1 follower
May 23, 2017
Oh God, where do I begin? I have so many mixed feelings about this book that I have to leave a comment. It was promising as much as it was badly written. The parts taking place in Zebub were written greatly all in all, and for the most part the world building there was believeable and well done. Apart from some minor things such as randomly appearing places in the end (in my opinion, it just doesn't work well if you introduce a new place by name and then describe it in one sentence as if you were reading a travel guide or a history book. I want to feel it. Not feeling like I'm reading a Wikipedia article).
Then there's the San Francisco gang.
*long sigh*
It started out so well and promising. It's your everyday teenager-finds-out-that-they-are-blessed-with-some-sort-of-power trope, but that is what we are in for and I will not complain about that. However, the author tried too many things at once. Nearly all of the characters get their own POV chapters, but with a book this size it means that the chapters are mostly only very few pages long. You just barely get a feel for a character before the POV changes. You don't really get to hear their motives, their intentions, their plans. So it happens that a charactet gets something to reflect upon themselves, but it feels so out-of-context that you're wondering why this piece of inner musings has been included in the first place. Characters seem to change sides or plans randomly (which I assume doesn't happen, we just don't get to see their train of thoughts). It is due to this that Matthias' growing interest for Eric feels so forced? Why is he so head over heels for him?
The Oganisation had needed much more pages to be described properly. It all happens so quick that I don't understand everyone's motives. Tae would have been a perfect traitor but no - he forgot his years of training on like two pages.
And the diversity. I came here for homosexual main characters, and I welcome every depiction of non-normative sexuality (since I'm not heterosexual myself and would like to get away from every-romance-ever). But here we have it all (homo, trans, bi, nonbinary, lesbian, ...you name it), just randomly thrown into 400 pages and it just does not feel real. The Organisation is not a LGBT+ group - it's unrealistic to randomly have such a diverse group of characters. As much as it saddens me to say this.
I have ranted a lot now, but I also enjoyed much. The first half of the book was definitely better; I appreciate trying to have many diverse characters at once. I like Byron and am curious to see what he'll be up to. And the cover itself alone deserves 5 stars.
Profile Image for Brittany Makufka.
254 reviews4 followers
December 15, 2018
Well... I'm not really sure what to say about this book.
I got more into it as I read it, but I'm still left with a "meh" feeling about it.
I LOVE the freshness, that it's different, the creativity that went into the world building, the diversity. All of that is really, really lovely. And I think that's what kept me reading it.
What I struggled with was the writing. There were times that I had to re-read sentences or paragraphs again because I didn't understand who was talking, or what was going on. It definitely feels like a first book. I really just wish the writing could have been more polished.
Also, this really felt like two books mashed into one. I was waiting and waiting for the Erik and Lil to finally meet up - but they never did? The two worlds finally started to meet up at the end, but just barely. I also enjoyed the Zebub story line a lot more than the San Fran one. I had a hard time caring about Erik and the others. Lil and her world were much more interesting. This is also one of those books where you just have to go with it. It gets *weird* - but I like that. That's what brings the freshness to me.
I'm not sure if I'll continue with this. I'll see if the characters grow on me at all.
Profile Image for Jane.
135 reviews
August 15, 2018
Sci-fi/Fantasy that actually feels fresh and original!! That's super rare, given how much of that genre I read!! I was completely and utterly gripped within the first 15 pages and knew that I would be finishing the whole book. Loved, loved, loved a sci-fi/fantasy story that didn't decide that in a world of magic and aliens, etc., there were still only white cishet people. It's amazing how often the races of people refuse to acknowledge the creativity and originality around them. Not this one. I think every character is a person of color (I could be misremembering), with an emphasis on Black characters, and there's plenty of different sexualities to go around. Love the semi-dystopian feeling to the book, and love the pretty realistic writing of teenagers in over their heads, but with powers to help them through it.

Well-written, well-crafted, fun to read, though like most sci-fi/fantasy, it gets pretty dark at times. There are some gruesome actions and descriptions, though nothing that felt like more than the moment deserved. Overall, really, really enjoyed this, and looking forward to the sequel.
Profile Image for Lisa.
138 reviews4 followers
December 29, 2017
If I had realized this book was a young adult novel, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. Yes, there were some elements present here that I’ve come to associate with why I’m not a fan of YA work; mainly short, choppy sentences that jump from one point to another abruptly. (It makes me wonder if the writer is thinking “OK, I’m writing for ~young adults~ who don’t have a long attention span so I have to make something happen quick, here, or I’ll lose their interest). Anyway, I’m glad that realization didn’t happen. This was a wonderfully different fantasy work that contained a unique and well-built world containing a beautifully diverse cast of characters, plus an interesting story - way more than enough to make me overcome my annoyance at the sections with the choppy writing.
Profile Image for Lisa.
24 reviews
February 5, 2020
DNF at 20%

Too many POV characters and the story moved forward at a crawl. You barely get a feel for a character before the POV switches to a new one. The writing is okay, functional though clumsy at times. The world building confused me rather than enthralled me, which is too bad because it has some creative ideas. Maybe because the reader is thrown into a new world before we even get a strong grounding in the first one.

I want to like this book. There's a lot going on. I love the diverse set of characters (YES!) and basic world building concepts. The actual story telling just didn't grab me. Before giving up, I thumbed through the rest of the book and skimmed here and there to see if I wanted to hang in there, and I saw more and more new POV characters. TOO MANY!
Profile Image for Scarlet Blu.
111 reviews1 follower
October 8, 2019
Finished this yesterday. Still unsure how I feel about it. It wasn't really what I came for. It was, however, a very interesting read.
I try to avoid series and trilogies when I can because I have enough on my to-read list without adding sequels, but I've tentatively added this one, because I just want to know what happens now. This is not a stand-alone by any stretch. Interesting characters, very imaginative and unexpected world-building.

I think I really did like it, actually.
Profile Image for Casey Peel.
207 reviews4 followers
October 10, 2022
This was such a slog and I wanted so much to like it (diverse queer characters!) but alas, it was just ok.

The characters are interesting with a creative world and mythos but it really felt like it dragged to me. I'm not sure if it's the switching between worlds, the switching between characters, the large cast of characters, or what but I had to force myself to finish this.
Profile Image for Anna Chappell.
484 reviews4 followers
December 31, 2017
Great concept and world building, and I loved the diversity of the characters. There were too many viewpoints/characters though; it was hard to connect with anyone (but Lil, for me), and it needed a lot more editing than it got.
Profile Image for Lynne Rogerson.
32 reviews1 follower
May 6, 2018
4.5. Great characters along with a complex and fascinating setting. I found myself invested in the thoughts and feelings and health of more than one character and enjoyed the in-depth look at each with chapters dedicated to different voices. I can’t wait to read the next one!
1,291 reviews2 followers
January 16, 2019
An enjoyable take on urban fantasy, starring Black, non-heteronormative characters and building an interesting world out of the mythology of the nephilim. The prose is sometimes clunky and the plot sometimes dictates inconsistent actions of the characters, but it still leaves you wanting more.
Profile Image for Elliot Williams.
38 reviews7 followers
February 5, 2020
DNF at slightly less than half-way through. I really wanted to like it! And there’s so much to like! But there’s also just SO MUCH. Too many characters, too many plot threads, too much lore. I just couldn’t get into it. 🤷‍♂️
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
12 reviews
August 23, 2020
I loved this book so much! The world is so unique and exciting, it draws you in so much. So many wonderful characters, with a great amount of diversity! Definitely one of my favorite books I've ever read!
Displaying 1 - 30 of 45 reviews

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