Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,

Book Review: Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse

Post-Apocalyptic shenanigans in Dinétah.

Trail of Lightning

Saga Press, 2018, 287 pages

The sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse have destroyed most of the planet…yet out of these waters, Dinétah, a former Navajo reservation, has been miraculously reborn.

When Dinétah needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie - a monster hunter and supernatural killer - is its last, best hope. Trail of Lightning follows our heroine as she walks the land alongside gods, heroes of legend, and monsters alike. Reluctantly, she enlists the aid of an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel Dinétah, unraveling clues from ancient legends and trading favors with tricksters. As Maggie discovers the truth behind the killings, she will have to confront her past if she wants to survive - for what she uncovers about the monster she is sent to find is much more terrifying than anything she could imagine.

On the surface, this appeared to be a fairly typical Anita Blake/Kitty Norville/October Daye/Jane Yellowrock/Buffy knock-off — a Strong Female Character ™ with paranormal powers who kills monsters, dallies with some paranormal bad boys, and works her way through an escalating series of Big Bads.

Under the surface, that's exactly what Trail of Lightning is. Its unique feature is being set in a post-apocalyptic Dinétah (the Navajo homeland) in which following the rising of the oceans (an event that vaguely waves a hand in the direction of "climate change"), what used to be the US Midwest becomes coastal and thanks to a magical wall erected by Navajo spirits, Dinétah is relatively untouched while the rest of what used to be the United States is implied to be a drowned post-apocalyptic wasteland. Along with the great flood came gods, monsters, and "clan powers" — so this is an urban fantasy using Navajo characters, myths, and setting.

The main character is Magdelena "Maggie" Hoskie (only Coyote calls her Magdelena), a professional monster slayer with (of course) a tortured past and equally tortured relationships. She's really pissed off at her ex, a hot hunky Diné demigod who taught her how to kill monsters and then did a pump 'n dump. Her rather vaguely defined clan power is that she's really good at killing. Mostly she kills things what need killing, but is always worried that other people will see her as the monster. So dark, so tormented! She's like... a Harry Dresden except female and Navajo and not a wizard and maybe not quite such a schmuck.

For those of you readying your Cultural Appropriation Scorecard, the author, Rebecca Roanhorse, is (according to her Wikipedia entry and her website) part Native American, but of the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo tribe, but married into the Navajo tribe. She apparently got some negative op-eds from Navajo writers who didn't appreciate her using their myths and legends for a blood-spattered monster-slaying romp, but I could not find anyone who could point at anything she actually got wrong, per se (inasmuch as this is a fantasy novel and by her own admission, she made a lot of stuff up because duh).

If you've got your Social Justice Scorecard out: if I'm not mistaken there was literally not a single white character in the story. There are references to a Texan Army something or other and apparently the Mormons have a kingdom or a federation or something somewhere outside the wall, so I expect we might run into them in a future book, but no wypipo in this book. *shrug*

So anyway, now that we've covered Writing Outside Your Lane 101, let's get to the story: is it any good?


Ain't I cute? I will fuck your shit up. For the lulz.

Yeah, actually. I liked it. Urban fantasy is not my favorite genre, and Trail of Lightning was in many respects a bit paint-by-numbers: a tormented angsty heroine who can fight better than a man but so, so dark inside will she ever find Twu Wuv? An affable, handsome rake who slowly worms his way into her affections so you know he'll turn out to have some dark secret. A bunch of monsters to kill and gods to dump hints, quests, and loot boxes on the heroes. A cast of characters we've all seen before. But it was fun, especially if you're into Navajo mythology.

Coyote is a major character here — of course he is — and I really liked his portrayal. He is the funny, charming, lovable merry prankster who should scare the hell out you even when he's smiling (especially when he's smiling) because he is not human and whatever he's doing, he's doing for the lulz, not because he actually cares about anyone. I mean, he might actually like you, but he'll still set you up to get flayed and beaten by badgers for the lulz. So every time Coyote shows up, Maggie is trying to hold her own in witty banter with a god who makes it easy to forget he's a fucking god and he's not on your side.

Coyote might have been my favorite character, in case you can't tell. Maggie and her love interests, eh. But I'll read the next book, especially if it has Coyote in it.

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Tags: books, fantasy, rebecca roanhorse, reviews

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