Bingo Square: Two Heads Are Better Than One
For Two Heads Are Better Than One, emmalita and Jen K chose to read and review Rebecca Roanhorse’s Trail of Lightning, the first in The Sixth World series. In order to make this simpler, we are pulling the Amazon description for the plot summary, and then going into our thoughts below that!
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.
While Trail of Lightning is very much its own original property, initially, it was also easy to draw comparison to novel urban fantasy series for the easy reference factor. For example. Maggie is in the tradition of a Kate Daniels type character, a loner who trusts few people, is isolated, cynical and hardened. In the same way, while this is a good rather than a great novel, the set up for a potentially great series is definitely there! Based on our very limited (or non-existent) knowledge of Navajo folklore and mythology, the world building feels original and fresh. But for all we know, Roanhorse might be tapping into very basic creation myths for even ideas like the Big Water (she is definitely using those stories in other aspects of the novel).
A note about spoilers – we talk about a thing that happens in the very first chapter, and then a character that is discussed in the first chapter, and one referenced in the book description. There are plenty of twists and spoilers left to be discovered.
AUG 9TH, 10:33AM
Jen K: Have you started Trail of Lightning? I’m a few chapters in but I have a cross country flight today so should make some progress! It’s interesting so far, definitely have thoughts and reactions already!
AUG 9TH, 12:25PM
emmalita: I didn’t get much read last night. I’m just to where she met Kai.
It’s interesting so far.
Jen K: I like the world building, definitely kind of a Kate Daniels vibe from Maggie.
emmalita: I’m getting a Kate Daniels vibe too!
Did you ever read the Jim Chee/Joe Leaphorn books?
Jen K: No, I haven’t
emmalita: The Chee/Leaphorn mysteries are set in and around the Navajo reservations and 4 Corners Area. The main characters are Navajo policemen. They are good books, but Tony Hillerman was white. It’ll be interesting to see how Roanhorse’s Rez is different from Hillerman’s, aside from the post apocalyptic landscape.
AUG 10TH, 10:42AM
emmalita: I think we’re going to need an Immortan Joe, do not become addicted to water gif
Jen K: Ha!
Jen K and emmalita: crickets…
Jen K: Sorry, I’ve been a bit out of the net (was home for a weekend, had training during the week) but I’m back and ready to discuss/review etc.
emmalita: Ok. I’m having lunch with a friend. Will you be around this evening?
Jen K: Yes, this evening should work well (I’m back on Pacific time)
emmalita: Ok. I finished the book yesterday. I had a few days where I just couldn’t focus enough to read.
Let me know when you are ready to talk.
Jen K: So perfect timing!
Will do! I am still not sure how I feel about that ending.
Jen K: hey! just got back to the airbnb! I know it’s a bit late in Texas though
emmalita: No problem
Jen K: so how should we start this? just a dialogue on here? or should i create google doc and then we can start putting thoughts down?
emmalita: Ooooo, a google doc!
But first, overall, what did you think?
Jen K: It suffered a bit from first book syndrome but I can’t wait to see where she goes with it! The world building is all there even if the main story in this one would be a bit weak if it were later in the series.
what about you?
emmalita: Pretty much the same.
Jen K: and yet it’s also odd, because I feel like she introduced a lot of elements I would have expected to show up later in the series – even if the ending kind of twisted that part. Kate took several books to develop a group of friends and allies, and for a moment, it looked like Maggie was going to do it in one book
emmalita: When I read Halbs review complaining about a book lacking a complete ending, I felt sympathy, because as much as I am looking forward to more books, I was unsatisfied with where the book ended
Jen K: agreed. let me back track to the beginning, though: when she kills the girl in the beginning, the way she talks about things infecting people, I thought she killed her because monsters are vampire-like and their surviving victims become monsters themselves. then later, it turned out that wasn’t the case so it was more of a mercy killing because her injury was fatal
but yeah, in that first chapter, I was expecting in addition to Maggie’s clan powers, she was infected with some type of monster virus that she was holding at bay through sheer willpower
emmalita: The way I read it, Maggie thinks she has been infected with evil because of the evil done to her in the past. She lives with the evil, and does the things uninfected people shouldn’t have to do. She killed the girl to save her from that. Later, Kai says that victims of evil are not sullied by it and can be healed. He argues that Maggie’s mentor was using her vulnerability against her for his own purposes. By implication, neither Maggie nor the girl should be considered damaged beyond repair and Maggie did not need to have killed the girl. I hope that gets dealt with in later books.
Jen K: ah, see I thought she just thought her one clan power made her a monster. It actually reminded me a bit of Graceling where Katsa thinks her grace is killing but it’s actually survival and a good thing.
emmalita: I thought about that too.
Jen K: Were you also a bit thrown by the timeline? I think this is a weakness in a lot of fantasy series so it’s not a complaint about this book specifically, but I feel like there are so many times when stories tell of the downfall of humanity and society as we know it and explain how a new society works, making the reader think the world has been the new way for ages, only for them to say later in the book or the series, “so the apocalypse was five years ago”
I mean I know Maggie said in the beginning that the older brother was only a few years younger than her, but I honestly was reading her as more mid to late 20s, and as the Big Water having happened maybe a decade before only to realize later that it was four years previously.
emmalita: Yes, I think that happens a lot in post apocalypse fantasy. I know that the area where the book is set is extremely poor and rural right now, so it didn’t feel that different to me.
Jen K: It seemed like the kind of world that people had settled into which I guess we get used to the new norm a lot more quickly than we would think
Yes, I have very little knowledge of the west and how large reservations are.
emmalita: I was sort of surprised by how similar it felt to the Chee/Leaphorn books in terms of setting, like maybe a lot changed off the Rez, but not much on it after the Big Water.
Jen K: It kind of makes sense. I’m sure in the most impoverished areas life changes more slowly than in more urban areas. I mean, we have seen a drastic amount of change in the last few decades but that’s not at all normal of human history.
emmalita: Right. And in Kate Daniels Atlanta, the evidence of life before the apocalypse is all around them
Jen K: Yes, even though it is also further removed. (It was so cool rereading those after living in Atlanta for a year)
emmalita: I can imagine! I’ve never been beyond the airport in Atlanta, so I have no sense of it as a city.
Jen K: It’s fun but also hard to sell. It’s chill, lots of great places to eat but then when people want to visit, it’s like, um, “we can go to the art museum and Civil Rights Center, and I hope you are in the mood to eat”
Jen K & emmalita: At this point we need to interrupt our review to put in a plug for Atlanta based Good Girl Goodies. They make great goodies and ship all over the US. Please visit their Facebook page for details.
emmalita: Yeah, with Austin it’s “I hope you like drinking, eating and sweating!”
Jen K: Lol! You can sweat in Atlanta, too!
so did you buy Maggie as a 20 year old? I am of two views on that one because she felt older to me but it also explains her devastation when her mentor left (but I could buy that same level of devastation from someone in their mid-20s being left by a partner of 10 plus years)
emmalita: She felt older to me too.
I think my brain insisted on making her mid 20s
Jen K: Mine too! Which is why the timeline was jarring to me. So really, I think my main issues with book were her age, the time line, and the ending. I also feel like some of things that felt like main series story lines developed too quickly, coming to a head at the end of this novel rather than in a second or third novel
But I thought the world she created was very creative and interesting! The clan powers, the wall, the electricity wars followed by the Big Water. All of those things were really engaging.
emmalita: I enjoyed reading the book. Once I was able to focus on reading the story, I found it very engaging. At the very beginning I was reminded a lot of Kate Daniels, but once I put that comparison out of my brain, it was very much it’s own thing. I think first book of a series issues aside, Roanhorse’s writing is strong. She’s laid a solid foundation for herself.
Jen K: Yes, I enjoyed it and will definitely keep reading; you can see comparisons to other fantasy series while it also very much reads as its own thing. I am not entirely sure how I feel about Kai (he’s charming enough but I actually wouldn’t complain if they remain platonic partners/friends) – I think I’m too into alpha males unfortunately.
emmalita: I would also be ok if she had no romances for a few books. I’m not entirely sure where she is going with Kai.
Jen K: I wonder if we had knowledge of Navajo mythology if there would be an obvious story his character’s plot and abilities are following.
emmalita: Good question
I suspect there are some things we missed, but I’m ok with that
Jen K: Us: This story and world building is interesting and original
People with knowledge of Navajo traditions: This is totally just our world creation myth with our version of Revelations thrown in.
Potentially. Who knows.
emmalita: So we need to put that in the review.
Jen K: What are we thinking for rating, 4 starts?
emmalita: It’s probably more 3.5-3.75 but we works with what we have
Jen K: agreed.