Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse – Gods, Monsters, Monster Hunters, and a Wickedly Awesome Adventure Across the Dinétah

Text: TRAIL OF LIGHTNING, The Sixth World, by Rebecca Roanhorse. Image: A Native-American woman holding a shotgun in one hand and a knife in the other, standing on top of a car and looking away from the camera. Lightning strikes down the image. On the top-right corner, a stamp with Xiaolong the pink axolotl wearing an upside down purple hat, with the text "REVIEWED BY CW, THE QUIET POND"
Summary:

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—and best—hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much larger and more terrifying than anything she could imagine.

Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel to the rez to unravel clues from ancient legends, trade favors with tricksters, and battle dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology.

As Maggie discovers the truth behind the disappearances, she will have to confront her past—if she wants to survive.

Welcome to the Sixth World.

My review:

Edit (11 Feb 2019): After publishing this review, I was made aware of this article that addresses the issues of Trail of Lightning. I highly recommend reading this, as it addresses some of the issues regarding representation and appropriation within the book.

It’s not often that I use ‘cool’ to describe a book; ‘brilliant’ and ‘wonderful’ seem to be my go-to adjectives, but ‘cool’? Cool is now a word I want to exclusively use to describe Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse. Trail of Lightning is a Native-American inspired urban fantasy that takes place in the Navajo reservation following a post-climate-apocalypse. Enter Maggie, a gifted monster hunter who lives in this new world, and her journey across the reservation to uncover the mystery of a brutal monster and the truths she won’t face about her past.

HUMANS, MONSTERS AND ANCIENT GODS WALK THE LAND

Taking place after a climate apocalypse, the story is set in the Dinétah, formerly the Navajo reservation in the United States. It is a harsh and unforgiving land, barren and struggling following the apocalypse, and those who liken it to Mad Max: Fury Road are right on the money with their likeness in imagery. Although a place where the fittest and most brutal survive, Dinétah is also teeming with life that resists extinction and fights against all odds. The setting of this book and its imagery are brilliant – grim, unforgiving, devastated, but also rich with allusions to the strength and resilience of survivors.

The highlight of Trail of Lightning for me, however, was its compelling new world order. Humans do all they can to survive and protect those that love, whether it be drawing from powers derived from their ancestry and clan or becoming monster hunters or mercenaries, from monsters who prey on humans that exist across the lands. Gods of old from Native American mythology, just like Neizgháni,  also walk the lands; appearing as flashes of lightning, exerting their influence and imposing their will upon humans, with their own motivations and cunning. Indeed, though Dinétah may be a relatively small place, it was so much fun to learn about Roanhorse’s world, meeting its people through Maggie’s eyes, and discovering the different ways that people live and exist.

A SURPRISINGLY SIMPLE STORY, BUT EXCITING AND FRESH

The story begins with a dead girl, a monster, and a monster hunter. It is an epic beginning, guaranteed to impress and hook you in, and sets the tone for the brutal, violent, but compelling story that Trail of Lightning effortlessly is. From there, Trail of Lightning is a journey across the reservation as Maggie, the protagonist, sets out to uncover the inexplicable origin of the monsters plaguing her land. As with most adventures, her journey leads her to cross paths with old friends and old enemies (and certainly those who fall in between the two categories), as well as powerful beings.

At its heart, Trail of Lightning is a wonderful and simple story, but makes significant contributions to the SFF genre with its exciting and fresh take on post-apocalyptic urban fantasy. The Native American, specifically Navajo, influences are unapologetically interwoven into the essence of the story, and are portrayed with respect and pride. Furthermore, Roanhorse incorporates elements that are prevalent across Native American women and community into her characters and their experiences. From both of these, Trail of Lightning deftly oscillates between its distinctly Native American worldbuilding and characters, giving rise to a compelling story that is fresh, exciting, and will not disappoint.

THE TOUGH YET COMPLEX LEAD THAT WE NEED

I have to say: Magadelena “Maggie” Hoskie is not only an exceptionally refreshing lead, but she was complex, compelling, and tough (in an endearing and inspiring sort of way). Maggie is a monster hunter; mysterious, with a tortured and deeply conflicting past, a badass on the outside but actually rather soft, damaged, and hurting on the inside. Though this is a character trope many readers might find familiar, Maggie’s character development was brilliant – as the story unfolds, so does Maggie’s character development and the truths behind her past, the traumas she has endured, the PTSD she has to endure thereafter, and why she is cold and distant with everyone she meets.

The other characters in Trail of Lightning were just as compelling as Maggie. There’s Kai Arviso, an alluring and confident young medicine man who joins Maggie on her journey across the reservation. The dynamic between Maggie and Kai was brilliantly written – the trust, companionship (despite Maggie’s initial resistance), and the chemistry between them was wonderful. Intertwined with Maggie’s past is Neizgháni, a monster-slaying god and legend, a force-of-nature, wicked, possessive, and someone who is deeply important to Maggie. Indeed, an ongoing question throughout the story is: does Maggie feel love, idolisation, or attachment towards Neizgháni? It’s a complex question – perhaps it is all three? – but the messy and complex nature of their relationship is undeniably a compelling part of the story.

MY CONCLUSION: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Trail of Lightning was such a pleasure to read, and I cannot wait for its sequel, Storm of Locusts in 2019. It’s unlike anything that I have read before, which indicates to me that I would love to read more of Roanhorse’s work and that I absolutely need to read more stories about Native American authors. Lastly, I stand by what I said earlier: Trail of Lightning is a wickedly cool book, one that I’ll inevitably recommend to fantasy and adventure lovers alike.

Goodreads | Book Depository | Review on Goodreads


Is this book for you?

Premise in a sentence: A monster hunter and a medicine man travel across the Dinétah reservation to uncover the mystery of a dangerous monster that plagues their land.

Perfect for: Readers who want something fresh in SFF; who want to read a book with Native American influences; who like exciting, bloody, and brutal adventures.

Think twice if: You can’t stomach gore and violence; this book has quite a significant amount of it.

Genre: adult, urban fantasy, post-apocalyptic

Trigger/content warnings: panic attacks, PTSD, graphic violence, blood mentions, murder, gore, death of loved one, emotional abuse


Let’s discuss!

I hope you all get the chance to read this brilliant SFF, friends! The sequel to Trail of Lightning, Storm of Locusts, which will also center on Maggie following the events of the first book, is due to come out on the 23rd of April this year! (Consider adding it to your Goodreads!)

  • Have you read Trail of LightningWhat did you think of it?
  • Have you read other books that have Native-American representation, especially those by Native-American authors?
  • What are some other books that integrate mythology into their stories?
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6 thoughts on “Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse – Gods, Monsters, Monster Hunters, and a Wickedly Awesome Adventure Across the Dinétah

  1. I remember seeing this book cover and being attracted to the book. I’ve not read anything by this author yet. I’ve read a few books that feature Native-American mythology: The Obsidian Mirror by K.D Keenan and The Spirit Warriors series by D. E. L. Connor are ones I can think of.

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  2. This sounds epic! I love how you always introduce to me to books I’ve never heard of before. I don’t know of many Native American authors – I always loved Sherman Alexie’s work but unfortunately he turned out to be the worst 😦 – so I will definitely have to look this lady up. I really like the sound of the mythology being wrapped up in the story – I love when authors can weave elements together like that.

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  3. I definitely agree with you here, this is a very cool book. I think I might have put it down a few times while reading and just sat there marveling how awesome the whole concept of the novel was. I loved Maggie so much and loved that we got a brooding female character which we don’t often see. I’ve already preorder the second novel because I need more of these characters and this world. Wonderful review!

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