Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse (The Sixth World #1)
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Saga Press on June 26, 2018
My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a digital review copy. No compensation was provided for this review, and all opinions are my own.
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.
Well-written, powerful, and original, Rebecca Roanhorse’s TRAIL OF LIGHTNING is one of the most important and exciting SFF books of 2018.
Maggie Hoskie is a Monsterslayer, a woman whose clan powers make her a supernaturally skilled killer and an outcast among her own people. Once the apprentice of Neizghání, the immortal child of two Diné gods, Maggie’s skills are unparalleled. So when disturbingly fast and hard-to-kill monsters begin plaguing Dinétah, Maggie’s called in to take them out. But when it becomes clear that there’s more going on than meets the eye, Maggie will have to defy all her instincts and rely on someone else for a change.
Every single character in TRAIL OF LIGHTNING feels like a real person, with charm, secrets, and contradictions aplenty. Sometimes they make poor decisions, especially Maggie. I’d even go as far as to characterize her as an unreliable narrator, at least when it comes to her self-conception. Maggie’s opinion of herself is warped by the traumatic incident that triggered her clan powers…and it’s compounded a thousand-fold by the emotional abuse she suffered under Neizghání. Watching Maggie grapple with the harsh realities of her devotion to her former mentor is hard to watch at times, but it’s so important. I haven’t rooted for a character like this in forever!
The supporting cast is also incredible, especially Maggie’s new friend Kai Arviso, a pretty boy medicine man in training with enough skeletons to fill a walk-in closet. Much like Maggie, I was suspicious of him at first but I was charmed by him in spite of myself. Clive and Clarissa Goodacre, tough as nails siblings with a penchant for danger – and a great party – also have a special place in my heart. But as far as the secondary cast goes, the real scene stealer is Ma’ii, often called Coyote. You may think that you know Coyote from other stories, but trust me, you’ve never seen him like this. He’s absolutely terrifying.
Roanhorse deftly introduces the history of the Sixth World and the culture and magic of Dinétah without overwhelming readers with detail, which is impressive when you consider just how rich and layered the world of TRAIL OF LIGHTNING is. Of all the fascinating world building that Roanhorse presents to her readers, my favourite is the concept of clan powers, which are triggered by traumatic events and are determined by a person’s clan heritage. While some of the Diné see clan powers as blessings, most consider Maggie’s violent powers a curse – Maggie among them.
The legacy of trauma is at the core of this story, which is unsurprising given the impact of intergenerational trauma on indigenous populations. Roanhorse doesn’t shy away from this darkness but instead embraces it, illustrating how events that could be the end of someone can actually lead to their rebirth. From the world building to the characters to its messages, TRAIL OF LIGHTNING is unlike any other urban fantasy novel I’ve ever read. The emotional resonance of this story is incredibly powerful, and the first steps of Maggie’s journey to healing shook me to my core. Her story is going to stay with me for a long time.
I, for one, cannot wait to see where she takes Maggie’s story in the sequel. Rebecca Roanhorse is an incredibly talented storyteller who brings much-needed originality and emotional weight to urban fantasy, and I whole-heartedly recommend TRAIL OF LIGHTNING to everyone.