Trail of Lightning: Monsterslaying among the Diné

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsTrail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsTrail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

Maggie Hoskie, the prickly heroine of Rebecca Roanhorse’s Trail of Lightning (2018), and I took a couple of tries to really hit it off. I read a few chapters of this book several months ago but stalled out and put it aside. But when the announcement of its Nebula award nomination happened to coincide with a cross-country plane flight, I picked up this again and ended up loving it.

Trail of Lightning is a gritty magical fantasy set in Dinétah, the nation of the Navajo people, in a near-future, post-apocalyptic world. Much of the world is now underwater due to a sudden catastrophe (the “Big Water”) caused by a convergence of global warming and other ecological disasters, some ten or so years before this story begins. In this “Sixth World” setting, portals to other, magical planes have been reopened and both the gods and monsters of the Navajo legends are once again an active part of our world, and the always-respected ancestral clans of the Diné or Navajo people carry new weight, with many clans now gifted with magical powers that are specific to that group. Dinétah is now magically surrounded by 50-foot walls to protect it against the dangers of the outside world. Too bad about the monsters within … But they do give Maggie Hoskie lots to do once she breaks out of the months-long funk she’s in at the start of the novel.

Maggie Hoskie is a magically gifted Navajo young woman who reminded me strongly of Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels, except Maggie is angrier and in a darker place mentally. She is a monsterslayer, gifted with supernatural swiftness from her Honághááhnii clan and fighting skills from her K’aahanáanii clan, but Maggie feels like she herself also is, or may become, a monster, dangerous to anyone she lets close to her. So she pushes everyone away. But when Maggie kills a murderous golem-like monster and begins to search for its origin, she finds she needs help. Kai Arviso, a young medicine man in training, and the trickster god Coyote both get involved in Maggie’s unconventional and dangerous investigation.

Storm of Locusts (The Sixth World Book 2) Kindle Edition by Rebecca Roanhorse (Author)

Sequel

The main draws of this urban fantasy are the imaginative and authentic-feeling Navajo setting and characters. Though Roanhorse’s heritage is a different tribe (she’s part Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo), the setting and Maggie’s narration never falter. The narrative is spiced with lots of Navajo words that aren’t always translated (tip: I could have used a glossary), but Rebecca Roanhorse’s writing is excellent and often evocative.

The forest surrounds me. Ponderosa and blue spruce spread across the high desert mountains, sheltering small badgers and mice and night birds. Pine trees scent the air, their fallen needles crunching softly under my feet. Insects drone happily in the cooling evening, buzzing near my ears, attracted to my sweat. There is a beauty here, a calmness that I savor. I will savor the bloodshed, too, no doubt, but this balance between earth and animal and self feels right. Feels true. 

Rebecca Roanhorse

Rebecca Roanhorse

There are a few drawbacks in the storytelling: The plot meanders somewhat as Maggie gropes her way toward a showdown with the maker of the monsters and her antagonists. As the mystery unraveled, I thought that the final reveal was a little murky in its rationale, so the mystery and its resolution didn’t entirely hold water for me. I did appreciate how what initially appeared to be somewhat of a love triangle ended with Roanhorse turning that trope on its head.

Trail of Lightning is a gritty novel with many dark, disturbing scenes. The second chapter ends with a distressing choice by Maggie, especially since the need for that choice is arguably undercut by reveals toward the end. But this novel has scenes of light and hope as well, and I enjoyed immersing myself in this world. I’m definitely on board for Storm of Locusts, the next book in THE SIXTH WORLD series, to be published April 23, 2019.

Published in June 2018. 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.

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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6 comments

  1. I *really* liked this one, and I’m very excited for book 2!

  2. I am eager to read these.

  3. April /

    I really wanted to like this one but I disliked the main so much that I couldn’t finish it. I’m one of those people that really have to like the main in order to enjoy the book.

    • Maggie is a hard person, for sure. When you get to know her background deeper in the book it’s easier to sympathize with her, but I certainly don’t blame you for giving up — I did for a while too. :)

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