Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
I found out about Trail of Lightning on Twitter a few months ago. As it tends to go with really good books, a couple of authors I was following there had started raving about it. Then, I saw the cover and was totally sold. I started following Rebecca Roanhorse before I even read her book, just to get more information. I have a tendency to be broke these days, so figuring out which books I absolutely need requires a little research. Anyway, I figured I probably couldn't lose with this one, and took the plunge. So, so happy I did.
Have Böker, Will Travel
Maggie Hoskie, the protagonist, is definitely one of my favorite characters. She's the perfect combination of crusty, vulnerable, snarky and bad ass. At the beginning of the novel, we find her listless and lost, having been abandoned by her teacher and mentor. When she gets called upon to hunt down a monster, it's one of the first times she goes out monster slaying solo.
On the hunt, she discovers a new and horrible monster and the little girl it had taken. Unfortunately, she's been horribly injured, and Maggie faces a difficult choice.
And you could catch evil if something evil got inside you. And once inside you, it could take you over. Make you do evil things. Destroy what you once cared for. Hurt people you wouldn’t have hurt otherwise, and eventually, kill. And if that happened, you ran the risk of becoming just another monster. Roanhorse, Rebecca. Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World Book 1) (p. 14). Saga Press. Kindle Edition.
The whole ordeal leaves Maggie shaken, angry and curious. What is this new monster, and where does it come from?
Old Culture, New World
Maggie lives in the world of the Dine, the Navajo people. When she was fourteen, the world ended in a huge flood, but the reservation and some of the areas around it were spared. It's unclear how much of the rest of the world remains above water, and it doesn't seem to matter much. People live in small communities, with the occasional town or city left over from the days before the Big Water.
Another huge change is that the gods and legends of old are back again and walking among normal people. Maggie's former mentor, is one such legend. Coyote, the trickster, is another. And then there's the clan gifts. Certain people receive the gifts of their parents' clans. In Maggie's case, she is walking death because of this. But Kai, the son of one of her few friends, might just be walking life.
Together, Maggie and Kai set off to discover the origins of a new monster stalking the Dine, and who might be behind it all.
As Good as Coffee and Sugar
I am such a huge sucker for good world building and this story has that in spades. On the one hand, you've got a post-apocalyptic dystopia, and then you've also got the prevalence of a culture I'm not very familiar with, so of course, I was totally riveted. I mean, the Dine is protected by a gigantic wall that sort of came to life and took on a life of its own, the gods walk the earth… it's all incredibly interesting. And this is all set in front of the backdrop of the real reservation life of the Navajo people. This is all a perfect recipe for a really rich, interesting setting, almost as rich as the plot and character development.
The plot is essentially a mystery. What are these new monsters, and who has created them? They pretty much reek of evil magic. There are also fires and lightning strikes which are highly suspect. Maggie doggedly peruses her query. She's been convinced the only thing that makes her worthwhile is her ability to kill. But of course, things get a bit more complicated than that.
Horror and Heroism
I don't want to ruin the ending, so I won't say much about it, other than that it was surprising, and I loved it. I also felt like one of the themes that touched me a lot over the course of this book was Maggie's lack of self-confidence. Because she has been groomed to believe she can only kill and destroy, she feels like she's really not capable of doing other things, like having relationships. And, because her mentor abandoned her, she has no idea who she is anymore, so Maggie is essentially a hot mess from beginning to end of the book. She has some moments of clarity, but she's an incredibly vulnerable bad ass. Kai tries a few times to get close, but she keeps everyone at arm's length for the most part. It seems like people like her better than she thinks she deserves and this becomes incredibly endearing. I would say Maggie is one of my favorite main characters I've encountered this year.
I loved this book. It was incredibly hard to put down because it's just so well put together and intriguing. You want to solve the mystery and you want to explore this new world Roanhorse has created and you just want to see what Maggie's going to do next. It's a book that's got humor, darkness, pain and excitement which are all great ingredients for a good story. There are some horrific scenes, but the violence is not gratuitous and is used well. I definitely think everyone should experience this book, because really, can the world have too many strong, yet human bad ass women?
If you're not ready to commit to a whole novel, I highly recommend checking out Roanhorse's award-winning Your Authentic Indian Experience, a short story that also showcases her amazing skill as a writer and storyteller.
What's it Like?
Take Mad Max and set it on a reservation, except Max is a bad ass woman packing a huge knife and magical powers. Then add a beguiling mix of jerk-ass gods and horrific monsters.
Bechdel Test: Pass
Links: Goodreads, Bookbub, Rebecca Roanhorse on Twitter