Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

November 28, 2019

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 best hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much more terrifying than anything she could imagine.

Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel the rez, unravelling clues from ancient legends, trading favours with tricksters, and battling dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology.

As Maggie discovers the truth behind the killings, she will have to confront her past if she wants to survive.

Welcome to the Sixth World.

November has been Native American Heritage Month, so I thought I would mark the occasion by seeking out some appropriate genre fiction. Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse is the first book in a post-apocalyptic series that uses Native culture, myths and legends as its basis.

Maggie Hoskie makes for an engaging protagonist. Many of the Diné have abilities beyond those of normal people. There are those with skills in healing, others with bear-like strength, or those who can control the power of suggestion. Maggie is no exception, she is a ‘Living Arrow’, which means her clan powers grant enhanced speed and fighting skills. There is an internal battle raging within our heroine. Maggie often feels like an outsider, she is shunned by those who don’t understand what she is capable of. It’s only when a supernatural threat arises people suddenly seek her out. The thing I like most about Maggie is she is learning all the time. She’s not perfect, and she most definitely makes mistakes, but takes something away from every failure. That constant evolution is what makes her character so engaging. How do Maggie’s abilities define her? Can she control them, or will they end up controlling her? Can she contain the bloodlust that threatens to consume her? That fear of losing herself to violence plays heavy on her heart.

Roanhorse has a real knack when it comes to capturing frenetic, fast paced action. The fight scenes are visceral, bloody affairs. I love it when an author is able to depict action so effortlessly. It makes it easy to picture every detail while you’re reading. The final chapters of the novel are especially good. The narrative builds to a suitably explosive climax and there are some nice revelatory moments that act as an ideal pay off. This all bodes well for further books in the series. I’ll admit I’m particularly curious to see where Maggie’s relationship with her partner Kai will end up. I also look forward to discovering more about the other eclectic characters. On a personal note, here’s hoping for more Coyote and more Thirsty Boys!

I thoroughly enjoyed this first book in The Sixth World series. Trail of Lightning is one of those rare novels that captures your attention from page one and steadfastly refuses to let go. It’s a perfect beginning that screams endless potential. I got the impression that we’ve just seen the tip of the iceberg and that there are many more stories left to tell. I do hope so. It turns out when you spend your time mixing with gods and monsters, life is never going to be boring.

Living in the UK isn’t always the most culturally diverse experience, so it’s often through fiction that I’ve learned more about cultures where I’ve been previously uninformed. Though Trail of Lightning is a work of fiction, it has piqued an interest in discovering more about the Diné. With that thought in mind, my musical recommendations to accompany Trail of Lightning had to have something in keeping with the cultural roots of the novel. After spending some time exploring the myriad branches of Diné music on the internet, I’ve a couple of suggestions that I think fit well. First there is the album Warrior Magician by Robert Mirabal. It has a haunting, spiritual feel that enhances the mystical elements of Roanhorse’s writing. My other suggestion is the album Fight Like A Woman by brother and sister duo Sihasin. I think their politically-charged punk rock music would be exactly the sort of thing Maggie would listen to. The title of their album also feels entirely apt.

Trail of Lighting is published by Hodder and is available now. The sequel, Storm of Locusts, is also available from today*.

*I can confirm that I have already ordered my copy. In fact, by the time you read this, I may already have it in my grubby little hands. I’ll be diving into it immediately.

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