Travel Documents 40: Trail of Lightning

Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World Book 1)

 Rebecca Roanhorse
Genre: Dystopian, post-apocalyptic, magical realism

 Link To Buy

The Dust Cover Copy

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, unraveling clues from ancient legends, trading favors 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.

 

*Reviewer’s Note: I listened to the audiobook, so I may misspell some of the names and/or terms*

The Deets

The Scene

Worldbuilding

Stark and subtly breathing, this world is alive. It feels real. You can taste the heat and the scent of pine needles on your tongue. You can hear the drumbeat of the stories in your soul.

Rooted in the truth of the Diné people, this is an adventure. True. But it’s more. It’s a story of a repressed people who rise again. It’s the story of the world changing and the tables turning. The magic of the land is back, and Turtle Island belongs to her children again. Reversing the Trail of Tears, the spirits who work with the Diné are blazing the Trail of Lightning now. And the People are rising above the pains of the past and the drowning of the Fifth World.

There’s powerful, visceral and muscular magic in this future, woven into the post-apocalyptic technologies of water reclamation, off-grid energy production, water barons and survival. It’s a world I wouldn’t want to live in, but I love reading. The people in it are shaped by the stories of their culture and the difficulties of their environment.

In this story, global warming got serious all at once, and the Big Water came sweeping across the world, drowning great swathes of America. The high, arid lands of what is now the Navajo Reservation is one of the few places safe from the water.  Undrinkable water. Now water is precious, and the Energy Wars are raging.

This world is grounded in the cultural wealth of the Diné people, and it enriches this entire story. The reader for the audiobook backs this up with perfect pronunciation of all the Navajo words and a wonderful capturing of each character’s spirit in the voice she has given them.

The cultural setting is the foundation of this story, forming its base and giving it tangible reality, as well as depth. I’ve read Tony Hillerman’s work and loved it. This is better.

Aside from good writing, the ability to see an empowered future through indigenous eyes is a real pleasure.

The Crowd

Characterization

Maggie’s harsh compassion is at the heart of this story. She is complex and powerful, in spite of her hatred for the weaknesses she sees inside herself. Lonely by choice, she aches to be whole and fights to keep others safe. She’s one of the best hard-bitten heroes I’ve seen.

Surrounding her is a rich group of spirits, powers and magic-workers: Kai, her silver-tongued sidekick. Ta, her supportive elder. And Neizghání, her mentor, friend and enemy.

I loved the characterization of all the figures save Neizghání, who I found irritatingly baffling in his sudden switch from mentor and possible lover to pride-swollen prick and eventual enemy. That really irritated me, and the defense of ‘he’s not human, he’s a god’ felt like a fig leaf over the issue.

But aside from that issue, it was a powerful cast.

The Lingo

Writing Style

As powerful as a sunset over the buttes, this is an evocative story that draws you in with a deceptively rich simplicity and an ever-escalating tension.

The Moves

Plot

I had only one complaint in this story’s plotting: Connecting strong, wounded, powerful and wonderful Maggie’s emotional needs to a character as unpleasant and flat as Neizghání really didn’t work for me. Yes, he’s a god. Yes, he saved her life. But the way she’s written made me expect a much more powerful and complex mentor to match her. So when I met her missing former caretaker, as a reader I paused and shook my head. As a personality, I didn’t feel that Monster Slayer had earned the kind of devotion from the kind of person Maggie is, and it reframed everything I’d read up to this point as a sort of Foxhole Syndrome. I found that distasteful.

Okay, that’s my complaining done. Now for the fun part. And there is so. Much. Fun. In this story. It’s an adrenaline rush wrapped in a poem. It’s what Supernatural could have been if it had brains. It’s a joy to read and a thrill to finish. And it never lets up the pressure.

Overall Rating

A truly powerful indigenous-future tale, and one that must be read.