cbr11bingo Cannonballer Says/Bingo #4 & 5
I think this book has been reviewed by a few Cannonballers, most recently by TeresaElectro. It’s the introductory novel to what is going to be a fantasy series centered on the Navajo or Diné who have survived an apocalyptic event known as the “Big Water.” Rebecca Roanhorse, who is Indigenous American, has won Hugo and Nebula Awards, among others, for her sci-fi/speculative fiction. Trail of Lightning was nominated for a 2019 Hugo in the best novel category. It features a strong woman protagonist who struggles to deal with her formidable powers, her tragic past and her loneliness. And she’s a monsterslayer! I was hooked on this story from the first page and can’t wait to read the rest of the series as it comes out.
In the future, about two-thirds of the continent is under water from an event called the “Big Water.” Due to Energy Wars, digging up the land for pipelines, fracking, earthquakes, and hurricanes, the coasts and Midwest have fallen away and been permanently flooded, its people gone. The Navajo nation or Dinétah has survived, its tribal council having built walls around its borders just before the cataclysm occurred. Our protagonist and narrator Maggie Hoskie is one of those survivors, but among her people she is considered strange and dangerous. While Maggie is one of the “five-fingered,” that is, “human,” she possesses clan powers that make her superhuman. When her powers take over, she moves with incredible speed and kills with tremendous force and precision. Maggie is in her 20s when the story begins and we know little about her past. That is revealed gradually through the story, but we do know that her mentor, the legendary and immortal monsterslayer Neizghani, has left her without explanation and she is bereft.
Maggie is a fascinating character. She is tall, with long hair, and armed with guns and knives. She lives alone in an abandoned trailer on the outskirts of a small town where other Diné live. She keeps to herself and they leave her alone until a monster strikes, kidnapping a young girl. What passes for law enforcement — the Law Dogs and The Thirsty Boys— refuse to do anything, but Maggie is a mercenary. She agrees to find the monster and girl for pay, never guaranteeing that the girl will be brought back alive. While the townspeople fear and distrust Maggie, monsterslaying is what she is known for and they are desperate. As Maggie recalls past hunts with Neizghani, we learn that she revels in the kill, and she has reason to. Maggie’s “rebirth” as monsterslayer came in her teens under gruesome circumstances; this event also led to her introduction to Neizghani and many years of living with him as an apprentice, and perhaps something more.
What should have been a routine monster kill turns into something else when Maggie sees what kind of monster she has on her hands. Without Neizghani to guide her, Maggie turns to an old friend, Tah, in the town of Tse Bonito. Tah is an old man who has been kind to her and who has great wisdom and experience in tribal ways. It is through Tah that Maggie is introduced to her new “partner” in crime, Kai Arviso, Tah’s grandson. Maggie has zero interest in a partner of any sort, but Kai is learned in the ways of traditional medicine. He is also easy on the eye and quite the charmer. When the local Law Dog chief tries to arrest Maggie (and would clearly be glad to see her dead), Kai talks their way out of trouble, but the real trouble is only just beginning.
Maggie’s investigation into the type of monster she has killed leads her and Kai to other crime scenes, where it seems that groups of monsters have attacked. Kai’s knowledge of history and healing will come in handy, as will his connections and charm, particularly when Maggie’s old “frenemy” Ma’ii, the Coyote trickster, shows up with promises of information in exchange for a favor. As their investigation continues, Maggie has to decide whether she can trust Kai and the others whom they encounter on their journey. Maggie struggles with the feeling that she herself might be a monster, that having come into close contact with evil, she has somehow become infected with it.
The climax to this first book in The Sixth World Series is thrilling and leaves us with a cliffhanger. Maggie has had to make life and death decisions and decide who it is that she trusts. Trail of Lightning is a great story and full of fascinating information about Dinétah, their legends, sacred stories and holy people. Book two is available, and it’s already in my TBR stack.