Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

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“Lightning without a cloud in sight means one thing. Visitors.”

What an incredible debut from Roanhorse! I absolutely fell in love with the characters and the world that Roanhorse crafted, engaged from the first page to the last. If you are looking for a fast-paced story that is both character and plot driven, I highly recommend Trail of Lightning!

This urban fantasy is set in an alternative America. Most of the world has been destroyed due to cataclysmic flooding, bringing about what the gods call the Sixth World (kind of like a new era for humanity), and the Navajo have taken back their own land and built a wall to survive. In the Sixth World gods walk among humans, but so do monsters… and everyone has their own agenda.

“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 told in Maggie Hoskie’s point of view (first person, present tense), who a skilled Dinètah monster hunter with as much a reputation for being difficult as fierce on the battlefield. You can tell that Maggie’s experienced a lot of loss in her life; she is guarded and mistrustful but still has a big heart. She is joined by Kai Arviso, the nephew of an old man that she loves as if he were blood named Tah. Together they embark on an adventure neither are prepared for in order to kill the monsters and uncover the truth of their origin.

The apocalyptic and dystopian setting frames the story nicely, and throughout the book we are given glimpses into what happened, but it isn’t the main focus of the story. The reader is given just enough to situate themselves into the world, but this book is driven by Maggie and Kai’s quest to find a way to stop the monsters. I am excited to learn more about the world after Big Water. References were made about what happened during and after, before the Wall was built, and I expect that the post-apocalyptic world and the political machinations will come into play more as the series progresses.

The characters in this book are so well developed – even side characters that you only encounter for a few pages. Everyone comes alive on the page and helpes to drive the sense of urgency in finding a solution. Interestingly the monsters that Maggie and Kai face are not all of the supernatural variety; they have to outwit and battle human enemies and corrupt Lawmen. After Big Water it seems that the law has gone the way of the Wild West, and it is an interesting look at how society fractures and bad people will take any opportunity to exert force and gain power. Sometimes the biggest monsters are the human variety and the theme of being touched by evil runs throughout the story.

“The sad truth you do not wish to face, Magdalena, is that sometimes the ones we call our heroes are the greatest monsters of all.”

One of the main threads of this story is of morality. What is it that separates monster from human in a world that is more gray than black and white. I think one of the things that I loved the most is that every character is shrouded in their own mystery and is straddling that gray. Everyone has something that they do not want to share… or perhaps we just don’t want to see it.

The book is written eloquently with lyrical prose, instantly captivating me with its first line. It’s a fast-paced plot that kept me engaged throughout, and while I guessed plot points in advance, I did not feel disappointed when doing so. It just made the heartbreak I felt more bitter because I saw it coming and could do nothing to stop it.

This is a book that I featured in my 6 Books by Native American Authors to Read, and I am so glad that I read it, and hope you do too! Overall this is an engaging and beautiful urban fantasy, and is hands-down one of my favorite reads of 2018! The characters are all wonderful and the worldbuilding offers just enough to whet the appetite, and while there are Navajo words and phrases used I never once felt lost. I appreciated the glimpse into Navajo mythology and culture that this own-voices story gave as well. I honestly cannot recommend this book enough and I cannot wait for Storm of Locusts!

REPRESENTATION: anxiety (panic attacks), gay side character, Navajo
CONTENT WARNINGS: abuse (psychological), violence, murder

★★

You can find information about my rating criteria here.

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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.


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