Trail of Lightning is the debut book by Native American Author Rebecca Roanhorse; the first in Roanhorse’s The Sixth World Series which is destined for greatness. Rebecca Roanhorse creates a unique dystopian world, unlike anything I have read before. What would happen if there was another great flood if all that we knew washed away? What if the Navajo built a wall to control their borders? What might become of our world if we continue to abuse it? The world that we know would be no more. That’s the premise of the novel. The characters here dwell in a new world; that which was left, after most of the former world washed away. The fifth world is reborn into the Sixth world; where magic returns to the Dinè Clans. Where the old gods, their immortal children, and monsters return.
“This last flood, the one you call the Big Water, ended the Fifth World and began the Sixth.”
But the rise of the Sixth world may have been the end for the rest of the world. It was a new beginning for the DInè. As tensions rose in the fifth world the Dinè had the foresight to build a wall separating their lands from the outsiders; singing blessings as the bricks were laid until it grew in both beauty and strength. While the rest of the world washed away, the Navajo land became Dinetah.
” They say the hataałii worked hand in hand with the construction crews, and for every brick that was laid, a song was sung. Every lath, a blessing given. And the Wall took on a life of its own. When the workmen came back the next morning, it was already fifty feet high. In the east it grew as white shell. In the south, turquoise. The west, pearlescent curves of abalone, and the north, the blackest jet. It was beautiful. It was ours. And we were safe.”
“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.”
Trail of Lightning is written in first person POV through our protagonist Maggie Hoskie, as well as through character dialogue, interactions, and memories. Roanhorse waste no time inducting the reader into this new world by immediately opening the story with conflict, creating a lasting first impression of our reluctant Heroine and setting the tone for the novel with powerful a powerful message and evocative language.
This is the first thing the reader learns about Maggie Hoskie:
“ I’m the person you hire when the heroes have already come home in body bags.”
Maggie Hoskie is a Monster Hunter. Trained by the Immortal Monster hunter himself Neizghání a child of the gods, Maggie is also an outcast. When we met her she’s at a low point in her life reeling from heartbreak and abandonment; she’s lonely and feeling sorry for herself.
“Killing is the only thing I have that makes me worth anything to Neizghání? And Neizghání was the only thing I had that makes me worth anything at all?”
I don’t know a woman or girl who hasn’t felt like this at some time in their lives.
In some ways, Maggie is your cliché Fantasy Heroine a loner, scared to get close to anyone, an ass-kicking badass who doesn’t believe in her beauty.
“I’m sure a beautiful woman like her has her choice of men.” My eyes shoot to Kai, looking for the joke. I clean up okay, but no one has ever accused me of being beautiful, and I know damn well I’m not as pretty as he is.”
But as cliché as that may be, in my experience this is the recipe which has proven to be essential to the construction of a great heroine. Many of my favorite Heroines made up this way. Maggie has Honàghà K’aahanáanii, clan powers which make her, faster, stronger, but it also has a dark pull. She’s always fighting against the dark side of her clan power the bloodlust that brings out her baser nature. Imagine a little devil on your shoulder whispering sweet nothings in your ear every time someone pisses you off.
“I’m Honágháahnii, born for K’aahanáanii.” He nods, thoughtful. “Honágháahnii I know. ‘Walks-Around.’ And that means you’re . . . ?” “Fast. Really fast.” So what’s your other clan? What does K’aahanáanii mean?” “ ‘Living Arrow.’ ” “So does that mean you’re good at archery or something?” “No, Kai.”
“Living Arrow means I’m really good at killing people.”
“K’aahanáanii whispers to me that it would be simple to pull the Glock I still have tucked in my pocket and put a bullet through the back of his skull.”
At the same time, Maggie is more human than she’s willing to admit; the author allows us a more in-depth look into her life. Maggie has suffered so much pain and loss first the tragic murder of her grandmother which was the catalyst to the emergence of her power, and the most recent and still open wound being her abandonment by her mentor Neizghání who she is in love with. As someone currently recovering from the end of an eight-year relationship, I found Maggie’s experiences to be both relatable and emotive. If you thought your breakup was hell, imagine recovering from a breakup with a god. An inhumane being who cannot love on a human level (sounds a lot like my Ex). The origins of Maggie’s pain, and the motive behind her way of existing both humanized and made Maggie more real to me. When I began to understand her motives and thought processes I knew that the author had hit the mark.
Kai Arviso is the secondary character, the grandson of a Maggie’s friend a medicine man name Tuh. Kai has been exiled from the other side of the wall a town known as Burque formerly known as Albuquerque. Kai is a devilishly handsome man with a way with words. He’s also a medicine man, and he’s hiding something. Maggie and Kai are opposites Kai is a people person, and adverse to violence. However, he appreciates the necessity of violence as well as Maggie’s violent nature together they are a balanced pair what Kai lacks in his capacity for violence he makes up for in both charm and power. Balance is essential in Native American Culture.
“Kai steps forward. Starts to sing. Navajo words, soft and low. Closer, within twenty feet, he lets them come. Voice still steady. Fifteen. Twelve. And then he flicks the lighter alive, leans in over the flame, and blows. His breath catches the fire, sends it whirling. Small at first, but then it grows. Tall as a child, but then taller. And it circles, twisting into a cyclone of blue and orange and yellow and red, until it’s a massive whirlwind of fire that builds, builds. “
As the series grows, I expect Kai to emerge as a force to be reckoned with.
In almost every fiction book with a Native American element Coyote, the trickster is often a common theme. He pops up frequently in both fantasy and urban fantasy, in fact, he’s the father of one of my favorite characters Mercy Thompson.
Coyote is most often written not as a benevolent god by usually not as one purposely out to cause harm, even though his trickster nature often does. Coyote’s character has been written in many different incarnations, but Roanhorse’s Coyote is a character I’ve never met before.
Although some elements remain the same, there are nuances that separate Roanhorse’s coyote from the rest of the pack; making this version of Coyote distinctly different. This Coyote is dark a little twisted and reminds that the gods are not like us, mere mortals cannot comprehend their motives.
“I think now that it must have tickled him, a creature who could change his shape as easily as humans shed clothes, to dress the white man’s frontier dandy when visiting a Navajo girl. He looked splendid, of course, but the choice was subtly cruel. I knew the stories of the Long Walk, of duplicitous land agents and con men. To remind me of them was no accident on his part.”
“I shudder at the blast of fury that pours from his body. For a moment, the pretense of the Western gentleman falters and I glimpse his true form under the facade. Shaggy gray-and-brown muzzle, dull yellow eyes, a mouthful of teeth meant for tearing carrion. He fills the room, frightening and unnatural”
While we often get the “gist” of cultural references, it’s evident that when writing second hand on the lore of other cultures; while assuming to have a full understanding of their ways, you are bound to fall short; this is the reason why own voices books are so important. It’s a testament to how powerfully written Roanhorse’s Coyote is, that as I read, I had the impression that every other version of Coyote I ever read was wrong. And the author acknowledges this.
“ So that was the Coyote?” Finished, he pushes the bowl away and leans back, stretching his lithe frame out and crossing his legs under my coffee table, arms behind his head. “He wasn’t what I expected.” ”
“ “What did you expect?” “I don’t know. A little less serious, I guess. All the Coyote stories I’ve heard portray him as kind of a fool.” He shrugs. “He didn’t seem so bad.” ”
I look forward to the development of this series and revisiting the Sixth World.
According to 23 and me, I’m only 1.7 percent native American but 100% proud of this book. Trail of Lightning is a fantastic debut novel I loved it! And you should grab a copy too!
Roanhorse is currently working on, Storm of Locusts (The Sixth World #2) which is Scheduled for release April 23rd 2019 by Saga Press and available for pre order.
Storm of Locust Amazing book cover