Thursday, June 14, 2018

Review: Trail of Lightning

Title: Trail of Lightning
Author: Rebecca Roanhorse
Series: The Sixth World
Volume: 1
Genre: Post-apocalyptic, fantasy
Release Date: June 26, 2018
Genre: Speculative Fiction, Fantasy
eGalley received through NetGalley

Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has experienced a rebirth since rapidly rising seas drowned much of the continent. Beings of legend now walk in this new world, and not all of them are content to leave the humans be. Maggie Hoskie is a supernaturally gifted monster hunter, starkly aware that, talented as she is, she has less at her disposal than her mentor, a legendary hero who abandoned her without offering a reason. When Maggie is enlisted to try to save a young girl from a monster, what she uncovers threatens more than just a few lives, and- accompanied by her jury-rigged old truck and an unconventional Medicine Man (in training)- Maggie sets out to stop it. 

Out of Ten: 8/10

Review at a Glance: A dominantly character-driven (and action-filled) journey through a post-climate-apocalypse world haunted by supernatural monsters and immortals.

Review: I do love a good climate apocalypse. This is a bit more of a supernatural climate apocalypse (or at least: this climate apocalypse blurs the lines between "humans messed with the natural world and feedback loops led to the climate apocalypse" and "humans messed with the natural world and the natural world messed back"). My mental map of the United States, especially the Southern states, is a little bit disgraceful (and even more disgraceful when it comes to my awareness of the extent of traditional Indigenous territories... most of the territory maps I've studied are more Northern). (Which is my long winded way of saying that I am familiar with neither the traditions and beliefs of the Diné, nor where in America Albuquerque is located. I had to do a bit of Googling.)

Maggie joins the ranks of so many main characters before her in that her life is just constantly being interrupted by supernatural beings who want something from her and like to meddle. Seriously the immortals in this book are... hmm... entitled and creepily involved in Maggie's personal life, like, back off. It's bad enough that you keep sending her off on random quests and things, please let her have her own personal life, maintain professional boundaries, or whatever. MYOB, Ancient Immortal Powers, M.Y.O.B

Maggie is kind of the withdrawn, jaded, hit-first-ask-questions-later hero type. Honestly she's one of the best examples of the trope I've seen in YA/NA- partly, I think, because so often in the fantasy literature I'm familiar with, this role is almost exclusively both a) given to male characters and b) played off as something totally appealing and cool and a good thing to be. Trail of Lighting gives us Maggie, a character fits this trope, but lets us see that she's a person who is struggling, she's scared a lot of the time, she's still trying to come to terms with her power, and that she's had her faith (in people, in her abilities, in the world) badly shaken (if not totally shattered) on multiple occasions. She's faced a lot of trauma that she's still struggling to process, and she's got her walls up. Basically I really appreciate how this particular trope is fleshed out and given new dimension in Maggie as a character. It isn't necessarily that the trope is deconstructed on Maggie, although I'd love to see it continue to work it's way there, but it's certainly more believable on her. I hope you realise that I'm restraining myself from writing an essay about her character. You came here for a review, not an essay. (Or possibly you came here for pizza and are confused and disappointed to find just words. I don't pretend to know your business). 

Kai was a more difficult character for me to fully wrap my head around, possibly because, unlike Maggie, I didn't spend the entire book seeing from his point of view. By the time I was about halfway though I did kind of feel like yelling "Maggie he's hiding something I don't know what it's something and I know you've got more than enough of your own crap going on but please ask him about it because I just know it's going to come back and bite us later" and I was. Not wrong. So that did add a bit of frustration to the reading experience. That aside his dynamic with Maggie was otherwise interesting because- with her taking the stoic warrior role who has Seen Some Things- he winds up in a role that makes him seem more open by comparison. He also provides knowledge and insight that we wouldn't otherwise have had (sometimes literally: he's better with seeing into the supernatural world that Maggie is during at least one confrontation), and his abilities remain a bit mysterious... His relationship with Maggie proceeded kind of in fits and starts just because of who they both were as people and also because of the situation they were in, and it didn't really feel unrealistic, which I appreciated.

With these two as the lead characters, it did kind of stand out when many of the supporting characters didn't feel nearly as developed or authentic. There were some that felt real despite having spent little time with, and others that just... somehow didn't. Some felt mostly just like... concepts of a character (the one character we know is on-page stated LGBT+ felt a bit trope-y, for example... not so much that there aren't people in the community with the traits he has but more that he hadn't been... fleshed out enough around them?) This might be because they're slated for further fleshing out in successive books, given that we're certainly not done with all of them. Neizghání was a strange case in that I struggled to find... justification for any of his actions beyond ~vague supernatural reasons~ and "being a genuinely terrible person who DOES NOT know our heroine as well as he thinks he does" felt kind of mystifying, partly because... there just isn't that much else to him? Like I get that people think of him as a hero because he's fought monsters but he's awful to Maggie. Like. Abusive awful? Never meet your heroes, I guess. The contrast between her memories of him and him when we meet him is staggering.

I feel like I'm beginning to ramble so I've just got to say: when Maggie stood on top of the truck in the book I was super excited because. COVER IMAGE! IN THE BOOK! (I get excited about weird things, possibly.)

The plot itself does kind of feel like a standard quest in a lot of ways: supernatural being shows up, assigns the hero a task, hero tries to accomplish said task while getting sidetracked. Combined with another sort of quest: hero discovers horrible thing, hero must investigate. The plot in a lot of ways felt like it took a back seat to the characters. It wasn't that I was uninterested in the plot, I was just more interested in Maggie's journey. The plot itself acted as a vessel for that, as well as to draw attention to the history of the Diné and the effects of colonialism- there was a line that I swear I highlighted but that isn't showing up in my eARC that essentially just says that, for the Diné the rising water wasn't the apocalypse-that had happened a long time before, which was an impactful and meaningful line- and. Okay. Also the plot was a vessel for some pretty cool monster-fighting scenes. The only thing about the plot that did bother me a little was it kind of felt like there was a cliffhanger at the end just for the sake of there being a cliffhanger? 

Overall this novel was an intriguing peak into Diné lore, a quest rich in action and meddling supernatural beings, and, above all, a character driven journey. I really enjoyed reading it and I'm looking forward to seeing where the story goes next. 

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