Trail of Lightning
by Rebecca Roanhorse
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.
After a climate apocalypse, the Navajo reservation, now known as Dinétah, has walled itself off from the rest of the flooded land that was once the United States to protect its people from the horrors that lie beyond it. Even then, however, they’re not safe, as the gods and monsters from First Nations lore have returned to the land they once inhabited many years before, and they’re not particularly friendly.
Maggie Hoskie has made a career out of hunting Dinétah’s monsters, of both the human and not-so-human nature, ever since she witnessed her grandmother’s violent murder and was saved from the same fate by a heroic First Nations demigod, Neizghání, who specialises in slaying monsters. The traumatic event woke Maggie’s clan powers, bestowing her with a skill for killing. Neizghání took Maggie under his wing and taught her all he knows, only to suddenly leave her some years later.
Maggie doesn’t know who she is without Neizghání, but when a desperate family ask for assistance in finding their missing daughter, who’s been taken by a monster, Maggie comes out of her self-imposed retirement to find her, and stumbles upon something very sinister indeed.
I’ve been seeing this book all over the internet, and I knew I had to read it as soon as I saw it. I love a bit of urban fantasy – it’s not a genre I reach for particularly often, but I always enjoy it when I do read it – but this one sounded so original because it involves First Nations myths and creatures and gods, with a First Nations heroine written by a First Nations author. How could I not want to read this?
I didn’t love this one as much as I hoped I would, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it by any means because I definitely did. For me personally, the plot and pacing were a little all over the place and, other than Maggie, I didn’t feel as though I got to know any of the other characters particularly well.
Having said that, this book is less than 300 pages and it’s clear that we’re going to learn more about these characters and that Maggie is going to grow and change as a heroine as the series progresses. The character work we did get with her in this book I really liked.
There’s a real focus on self-worth and overcoming trauma in Trail of Lightning that I was a big fan of. Maggie has been led to believe that her clan powers are turning her evil and, as such, she tends to keep her distance from other people, including Kai, the young medicine man she ends up teaming up with in search of a witch who’s making monsters. Roanhorse does a brilliant job of turning characters on their head, particularly Neizghání who Maggie loves and idolises, and yet he could be the very person who’s made her feel as though she’s worthless.
I also love that, in Maggie and Kai, we have a pair of characters who subvert the typical gender roles in fantasy. Maggie is the warrior and Kai the healer, and while Maggie is quick to resort to violence, Kai is someone who’d rather talk through a conflict.
By far my favourite thing in this book, however, was Roanhorse’s world-building and the inclusion of First Nations mythology. It was so refreshing to be reading urban fantasy that didn’t include vampires or werewolves or fae, but creatures who were genuinely sinister and made me uncomfortable because I wasn’t sure what to expect from them. One god in particular, ‘Coyote’, was so much fun because he is a trickster god and trickster gods are always a good time.
This book is violent and this world is brutal, but I liked it a lot and I’m looking forward to seeing what Maggie does next given how this book ended. Does it still have some urban fantasy tropes? Yes, of course, but considering poc have been written out of tropes for so long there’s no way I’m going to complain about the few tropes in this book when the rest of it was so fresh and new to me. I really want to see more of this world and I’m looking forward to getting to know Maggie even better!