“Everything you’ve done, your past, it’s all just a story you tell yourself. Some of it is true, but some of it is lies.”
Today’s book is the 2018 post-apocalyptic urban fantasy Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse. Spoilers follow!
So What’s It About? (from Goodreads)
While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters. Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last—and best—hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much larger and more terrifying than anything she could imagine.
Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel to the rez to unravel clues from ancient legends, trade favors with tricksters, and battle dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology. As Maggie discovers the truth behind the disappearances, she will have to confront her past—if she wants to survive.
Welcome to the Sixth World.
What I Thought- The F Word
If I could summarize Trail of Lightning in in just a few words, I think I’d say “what a romp.” It’s really just so ready to grab you and whisk you away on a well-told, exciting adventure that manages to bring something new to the table while also remaining true to some beloved staples and tropes. Admittedly I have read very little urban fantasy so I’m not especially well-equipped to compare this book to others of the same sub-genre. Those who have generally have good things to say, while also noting that Maggie’s utter dysfunction as a human being as well as her prickliness and guardedness may in fact be tired tropes for UF protagonists. Truthfully there is only so much brooding about being a monster that you can take from your narrator before it starts to grow entirely passé.
What most people seem to agree upon, and what I certainly found to be true, is that Trail of Lightning excels in its portrayal of Navajo mythology and culture. These characteristics are integral to the story in every regard, from the kinds of magic and power possessed by its characters to their dealings with supernatural beings, including fascinating and duplicitous gods. It also provides a refreshing take on the apocalypse (an inventive apocalyptic premise in 2018? It’s more likely than you think!): Roanhorse is very clear about the fact that indigenous Americans have already had to survive through cataclysm in the form of genocide and colonialism, and therefore the beginning of the Sixth World means something very different to them:
“But I had forgotten that the Diné had already suffered their apocalypse over a century before. This wasn’t our end. This was our rebirth.”
If its strength lies in bringing a much-needed indigenous perspective to a genre that has a general dearth of such voices (and, might I add, benefits immensely from the infusion of Navajo magic, monsters and mythology) then I think it falters slightly more when it comes to Maggie as a feminist character. I think the best thing I can do is point to Elena’s excellent review, where she describes some of the book’s shortcomings in this regard. To summarize her points, Maggie possesses very little agency as a character and her actions and drives are more or less constantly dictated by the male characters who surround her. To this I’d add that the brutal cult murder of her grandmother before teenage Maggie’s eyes was somehow, bizarrely, given less emotional weight in the story than her abandonment by her mentor/big-time crush Neizghani.
With that in mind, though, I’d also add that a big plus in the book’s favor is that the current love interest-ish guy, Kai, is a total sweetie and the dynamic between him and Maggie is one that I can easily see enjoying as it continues to blossom into a romance (I HOPE?) I personally never tire of stories that involve gods causing chaos and interference in mortal lives, and I also happen to be a big fan of the twists that the book had in store towards the end. It certainly did not pull its punches regarding the incredibly difficult choices Maggie had to make over the course of the story, and I am eagerly anticipating seeing how a certain cliffhanger will be resolved next time around.
About the Author (from her website)
Rebecca Roanhorse is a NYTimes bestselling and Nebula, Hugo and Locus Award-winning speculative fiction writer and the recipient of the 2018 Astounding (Campbell) Award for Best New Writer. Her novel Trail of Lightning (Book 1 in the Sixth World Series) won the Locus Award for Best First Novel and is a Nebula, Hugo and World Fantasy finalist. It was also selected as an Amazon, B&N, Library Journal, and NPR Best Books of 2018, among others. Book 2 in the Sixth World Series, Storm of Locusts, has received starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Booklist and has been named an Amazon, Powell’s, and Audible Best of 2019. Her novel, Resistance Reborn, is part of Star Wars: Journey to The Rise of Skywalker and a USA Today and NYTimes bestseller. Her middle grade novel Race to the Sun for the Rick Riordan Present’s imprint was a New York Times Bestseller and received a starred review from Kirkus. Her next novel is an epic Fantasy set in a secondary world inspired by the Pre-Columbian Americas called Black Sun, out Oct 13, 2020.
She lives in Northern New Mexico with her husband, daughter, and pups. She drinks a lot of black coffee. Find more at https://rebeccaroanhorse.com/ and on Twitter at @RoanhorseBex.