Book Review: Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Book 1 of The Sixth World
Publisher: Saga Press (June 26, 2018)
Length: 287 pages
Trail of Lightning welcomes us to the “Sixth World”, a post-apocalyptic future in which our planet has gone through a number of drastic changes. Rising sea levels and devastating tsunamis have wiped out most of the earth’s coastal cities, killing billions and leaving only the inland regions and high elevations above water. In the southwest of what was once the United States, the Navajo Nation of Dinétah has survived, shielded by a magical barrier. However, their people too have seen plenty of hardship since the Big Water swept over the continent, isolated as they may be. Many of their legends have come to life, their gods and mythological figures made real. Unfortunately, these also included the monsters from their ancient lore, who are now loosed upon the land, preying on humans.
Enter our protagonist, Maggie Hoskie. Whenever there was a monster that needed killing, she and her former mentor Neizgháni, a monster slaying god of Native American legend, would take care of it together. But that was before Neizgháni abandoned her. Now on her own and feeling hurt and betrayed, Maggie ekes out a living by taking on contracts as a monster bounty hunter. The book begins as she is called upon to track down a creature that has snatched a little girl from a Dinétah village. Maggie follows the trail into the mountains, only to find that the creature is in fact a magical construct similar to a golem—the kind only a powerful witch can create. To find out more, she decides to seek out the help of her wise friend Grandpa Tah, but as it turns out, the old man has other ideas. After introducing Maggie to his grandson Kai Arviso, a Medicine Man in training, Tah persuades Maggie to take the young man along with her on her monster hunt, convinced that their skills will complement each other. Reluctantly, Maggie agrees, and together with her new partner, the two of them set out for the old tribal archives hoping to glean some clues as to who orchestrated the golem attack.
Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of books containing elements which have a basis in Native American myths and culture, especially in the urban fantasy genre. But rare it is to find a book like Trail of Lightning where indigenous characters and their lives are at the forefront of absolutely everything, including the story and setting. This book is set entirely within Dinétah—a relatively small area on a map, to be sure, but Rebecca Roanhorse makes it feel as though there are endless possibilities to explore. The world-building is fantastic, drawing upon the Navajo perspective to flesh out the history and atmosphere of the setting. I also loved the supernatural aspects, which we got to see a lot more of as the plot unfolds. It’s like every time you turn the page, the world opens up a bit more. Fascinating people, incredible stories, and all kinds of extraordinary beings and creatures can be found in Dinétah, and I had a lot of fun discovering them all.
Maggie is also a wonderful protagonist. She’s a bit of an enigma when we first meet her, everything about her shrouded in mystery. She’s cagey about her past—and for good reason, since her history is full of pain and violence—but in time, she does start to reveal more about herself. I love her voice and take-no-nonsense attitude as she moves through life, ignoring the ugly rumors from the people who fear her for what she does. She also has great chemistry with Kai, even though he is her opposite in many ways. Truth is, the plot of this novel is actually quite basic and uncomplicated, but it’s the characters and their relationships that drive the narrative forward, keeping the momentum going and the reader interested.
Like most debut novels though, Trail of Lightning is not without its flaws. As I alluded to before, the story is rather simplistic, and paced somewhat unevenly. There were also predictable sections mixed in with plot developments that felt completely random. And while overall the world-building was fantastic, I still felt there were some gaps that needed to be filled, because I was left with a lot of questions. In terms of characters, the supporting cast could have been given more attention, though Maggie and Kai themselves were very well written. However, I also felt that their romantic relationship came on a little too fast and out of nowhere. The story’s antagonist was a bit of a disappointment as well, and I still have very mixed feelings on how the resolution to the conflicts played out.
But at the end of the day, I can’t deny I had a great time with Trail of Lightning. The book runs into a few hitches, but overall it’s a fast-moving and exciting plot with compelling characters and rich world-building that will keep you turning the pages quickly. I hope this novel will be the start of many more to come in the series, because clearly we’re only scratching the surface of the potential here. I look forward to returning to The Sixth World.