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Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
4.5
Book Name: Trail of Lightning
Author: Rebecca Roanhorse
Publisher(s): Saga Press
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Post-Apocalyptic Urban Fantasy
Release Date: June 26, 2018

Trail of Lightning is the first book in The Sixth World series and debut novel by Rebecca Roanhorse. It is about the return of the gods after the world ends. In this case, the world ended due to an event known as The Big Water, which was caused by the melting of the polar ice caps due to climate change. The gods that returned are those of the Navajo Tribe, one of the Native American tribes from the Southwestern United States.

Maggie Hoskie is the protagonist and one of the survivors of The Big Water. Since then, she has struggled to survive until she meets and becomes an apprentice to Neizghnání, a god known as Monsterslayer. That is until he leaves her abruptly. Now, she accepts jobs from other people for her skills. When a search for a missing girl unravels something bigger than herself, she goes to a medicine man for some advice. From there, Maggie finds herself on a quest to save the world from even more destruction.

Kai Arviso accompanies her on this quest. Both characters have been blessed with abilities from their tribe (the Diyín Dine’é, or people with supernatural abilities). Maggie has speed and a capacity for killing, while Kai is a medicine man and a healer. It’s interesting how these characters view these “blessings” as burdens because neither Maggie, nor Kai believe they have benefitted from them. In addition, both of them are suffering from PTSD and survivor’s guilt due to the events of both The Big Water, and its aftermath. Both lost family members and had to learn how to survive in this new world. Maggie isn’t proud of what she did after The Big Water occurred; and, Kai is uncomfortable with his magical abilities, to an extent.

Similar to many other SFF books, there is an element of realism which allows readers to show empathy with the protagonists and other characters. In addition to Maggie’s initial experience during The Big Water, her grandmother was murdered, she survived an abusive relationship, and is struggling with abandonment issues. In other words, Maggie’s existence invites trouble, so she decides to avoid as many people as she can, which is easy to do in a post-apocalyptic world. The author’s tone within the novel, humanity’s failure of taking care of Earth, reflects the mood, an urban apocalypse where everything has to be rebuilt in order to achieve a sense of normalcy. Roanhorse writing about a protagonist who survived all of these traumatic experiences serves as a reminder that a change in the world and/or the return of the gods does not alter human nature for the better.

I found this post-apocalyptic novel to be entertaining from start to finish. From Maggie’s hunt for the monster that kidnapped the young girl, to Maggie and Kai’s quest, to Maggie’s magical abilities revealed to her companions, and Maggie’s choice of loyalty at the end. Throughout the plot, the author explains what is left of what remains of the United States, specifically the Southwestern region—known as Dinétah—or the Navajo Reservation. I was able to learn more about this world through the author’s style and explanation of the Dinétah culture.

Roanhorse depicts Navajo gods when their worshippers would need them the most, after an apocalyptic event. While the retelling of gods, heroes and legends remind us of Neil Gaiman and Rick Riordan, Roanhorse has the gods of her ancestors return to Earth when the lifestyle of humanity reverts. Many myths (and folklore) tell of a simple lifestyle, when humans needed the gods to survive. This style of writing lets readers know that the lifestyle changes, but the culture doesn’t. As long as humanity thrives, the culture survives, and their gods do, too. In addition, Roanhorse incorporates Navajo diction for both authenticity and reality, with an explanation (and translation) of each meaning. If other cultures incorporate words of their own into everyday language, then why not learn Navajo ones?

I would explain this story as a cross between Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Mad Max, and American Gods. Maggie’s supernatural abilities allows her to survive in the Sixth World, but she has issues with making connections to people due to her personality. Maggie finds solace with those who either have Diné abilities or have suffered losses as a result of The Big Water. And, with the setting in the Southwestern United States, driving through the what’s left of the world gives the readers the sense that the apocalypse did come and left a lot of damage behind. The Navajo gods returned to Earth and are living with humans again, but whose interests are they serving?

My only issue with this book is that while the author mentioned that the gods in this novel were Navajo, it felt that she neither elaborated about the Navajo gods and their history with humanity, nor did she explain more of the culture of the tribe enough so that non-Navajo readers could follow along. There are several surviving Native American tribes, but I thought readers could have learned more due to more description and explanation of the Navajo culture. That being said, this leaves room for worldbuilding (and cultural insight) in future books in this series.

Trail of Lightning is a great urban fantasy novel with intriguing characters, a believable plot, and an excellent introduction to Native American (U.S.) culture. The idea that the ‘end of the world’ leads to the ‘return of the gods,’ so they can reform the world always makes for a very entertaining story. Roanhorse took the SFF world by storm in 2018 with her award-winning short story, “Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience”—which won the Hugo and the Nebula Awards and won her the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer—Trial of Lightning is the follow up to the success of Roanhorse’s introduction to the SFF community!

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One Comment

  1. Avatar Richard Marpole says:

    Great review! This sounds like a very interesting series.

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