‘Trail of Lightning’ Brings Readers A Different Apocalypse

In Rebecca Roanhorse’s Trail of Lightning the world has been forever changed.

There was probably a big war. There was most certainly a traumatic experience. The Big Water has risen, drowning much of the Earth’s population and separating those remaining.

The Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) had a Big Wall, yet troubles came in the form of all manner of supernatural creatures with their own agendas. These beings see the locals as prey at times, pawns at other times. This fascinating premise made me think of a tweet from a friend. Back in 2017 she attended Indigenous Comic Con and live-tweeted the Indigenous Futurism panel.

“…for indigenous folks the apocalypse has already happened.”

These words ring so true. Persevering through tragedy and injustice, living as a marginalized person — these aren’t new and novel events for Indigenous folks in this country. And here in Trail of Lightning, the world again has forever changed.

Straddling the line of woman and something entirely else is the main character: Maggie aka Maddalena Hoskins. She is an outsider with a specialized skill set: killing the monsters that threaten the peace. She was brought up under the tutelage of an immortal, ancient being named Neizghani, known to the locals as Monster slayer. Maggie is an old soul in a young woman’s body who knows sorrow. She keeps mostly to herself. Her profession as a killer of the monstrous has made her many things: a target, an eye sore, a feared one, and an outcast with few friends or allies to depend on — in fact she could probably count them all on one hand. Just one.

“But I’m no hero. I’m more of a last resort, a scorched earth policy. I am the person you hire when heroes have already come home in body bags.”

At the beginning of the book, Maggie is more or less a lost cause, not quite aimlessly wandering but definitely without much purpose. She doesn’t have a plan. She’s withdrawn and not eager to do much or be much. As I read on I start to see all the traumas that shaped her into the woman she’s became, the tragedies she lived through. It was such a heartfelt journey to see her gain allies, gain revelations about herself, and learn that she wants more from life, more than just death and to be an instrument that brings death.

“Words matter, the name you give things, it forms them when you speak. You must always be careful with your words.”

The world building that Roanhorse does is one of the best parts of this book: this is a world akin to ours that becomes magnified by Gods and creatures and the awful things they do to serve their interests. I fell in love with just how deeply the extraordinary live among the ordinary — how these more divine beings were everywhere in places where you wouldn’t expect, like a place where you would grab a drink. You just have to have the eyes to see them. Each one we meet, from Maggie’s legendary mentor to the trickster God Coyote, gives us layers to the narrative that add to this wonderful mythology.

We get a feel for clan powers, blessed abilities that can be a curse or a bless depending on who you are and how you utilizes them. As the book continued I got a better idea about the class structure that has evolved due to the strain on the earth because of climactic climate fiasco that has fallen the world: who lives on the reservations, who mingles with those who have more.

I was deeply impressed with the foreshadowing in this book. Tiny clues are threaded into the tale and make you sit back and ponder. It all pays off at the end of the book. The pacing of this novel works extremely well: keeping you hooked and sucked in to Maggie and Company’s adventures — I nearly read this all in one sitting.

There is enough meat to get folks emotionally invested. The supporting cast is fantastic, from the sweet grandfatherly Tah to the handsome, vulnerable and definitely more than meets the eyes Kai, to wise Grace and her kin, and the complicated Thirsty Boys. There is a believable romance that never, once to me felt forced. On tomp of all that, prose is beautiful. For example, the descriptions everything from Maggie finally taking down a monstrous beast “I scream, exhilarated, obscenely euphoric” to observing to a dazzling ally who is “dressed like some sort of futuristic Navajo Medicine man.”

“I want to believe him and the lie is so sweet that I let it stand. Give us this bubble of peace before the coming storm.”

The only criticism I can give is how this book ends. I must acknowledge it is a whirlwind that sets itself back upright before the final page, but it is an emotional hurricane, with a clever plot device by the author before you get there. In fact without the short excerpt at the end that previews the the next book in the series I would have been devastated for Maggie. It is a game of give and take though in some regard: I love how far our girl has come and how she’s bounced back, how she has become the woman who fought and bled and lived. Yet more importantly she’s the girl who tasted death, wrapped up so much of her identity in it through a male father figure, and choose herself, chose more.

Rebecca Roanhorse has already won the Campbell Award for Best New Writer and a Hugo for her short story, “Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience™”. She’s a Black and Indigenous woman who is earning deserved accolades across the Speculative Fiction field with her work. Overall, I loved this book and will read it again — hell who am I kidding — I already started my re-read of it.

Trail of Lightning is an electrifying debut novel from Roanhorse and I cannot wait to get my hands on what she blesses us with next. I’m hyped that this is only Book One in a series. The world we’ve been introduced here will continue. Maggie will fight for a tomorrow that includes more happiness for her, while also becoming the warrior she needs to be for herself and to protect others from the coming troubles from the Gods.

I read that the elevator pitch for this book was “Indigenous Mad Max: Fury Road.” Color me interested. It dawned on me that I wanted to read about indigenous folks in the fantasy (and sci-fi) genre but by someone who was a POC, preferably someone with an Indigenous background so we didn’t fall into that J.K-Rowling-I’ll-rewrite-Native-American-Skinwalkers-To-Fit-The-Harry-Potter-History-Backdrop. • • • The protagonist of this book is Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter. This book looks to have a mostly Native American cast exploring the origins of North American Indigenous Gods and legends. I think that just hooked me. • • • I love supernatural twists wrapped up in a post-apocalyptic world. I love fantastic cover art —Trail of Lightning is the debut book of a new author who heeded the advice of Toni Morrison: She wrote the book she’s been looking for. This will be the first book in a new, developing series. Count me in. #bnplit #trailoflightning #rebeccaroanhorse #dinétah

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