by Rebecca Roanhorse
A god will return
When the earth and sky converge
Under the black sun
In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world.
Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain.
Crafted with unforgettable characters, Rebecca Roanhorse has created an epic adventure exploring the decadence of power amidst the weight of history and the struggle of individuals swimming against the confines of society and their broken pasts in the most original series debut of the decade.
As soon as I learned that Rebecca Roanhorse was releasing a high fantasy novel based on the Pre-Columbian Americas, I knew I had to have it–especially as one of my earliest history obsessions was with the Aztecs. In her author’s note, Roanhorse discusses how there is so much more fantasy coming out now based on the histories of Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe, as opposed to the medieval England with dragons and wizards setting that the fantasy genre is awash with, but there’s still barely anything based on the history of the Americas before us Europeans turned up there and ruined everything.
With Black Sun, Roanhorse has started to fill that gap.
We follow four different characters – Serapio, a man who was blinded by his own mother as a boy with the belief that he is the vessel for a vengeful god; Xiala, a ship’s captain who is charged with taking Serapio to the holy city of Tova to fulfill his destiny; Naranpa, the Sun Priest who has risen from nothing and is fighting to keep control of the power she has amidst two-faced colleagues; and Okoa, a young man who returns home from war college when he receives news that his mother, the leader of their clan, has died – all of whom are drawn into a dark plot of gods and cultists on the run-up to a rare solar eclipse during the winter solstice.
I find this novel difficult to review because the lives of these characters intersect in such intricate ways that all I want to do is press this book into your hands and ask you to watch it all unfold for yourself. Its setting is so refreshing, and all the characters so morally grey, that I can honestly say it’s unlike anything else I’ve read before and, because of that, I often couldn’t predict what was going to happen the way I’m more likely to predict the outcome of a European-inspired fantasy. If you’re bored of knights and castle turrets, or still love those things but would also like to add some variety to your fantasy reading, then I can’t recommend Black Sun enough.
There’s a lot of information in this book because we have to be introduced to new characters, new worlds, new cultures, new histories, but the writing never felt bogged down by any of it the way that lore and history often can bog down the first book in a new high fantasy series. Instead Roanhorse gives us just what we need to be able to fill in the blanks for ourselves and that keeps the pace going; that Roanhorse is also writing an urban fantasy series is clear here, and in a way I feel like she’s taken the pace of an urban fantasy novel and slid it into a high fantasy novel and it works. The chapters in this novel raced by for me.
That being said, it did take me a bit longer to read this book than I expected, but I think that has everything to do with me and nothing to do with the book as I have been slowly making my way out of a slump. The only thing I can actually fault the book for, and why it didn’t quite get five stars from me, is because there were times, particularly near the beginning, when Roanhorse told when she could have shown. There were a few moments in which we’d be told what a character was thinking and why they were thinking it, when those thoughts could have been expressed through their actions or through their response to a situation or conversation.
There were also a few moments with Xiala that frustrated me the tiniest bit, which is a shame because I expected Xiala to be my favourite character! She’s a ship’s captain who I believe is pansexual – this book had a lot of queer rep, which I so appreciated – and her growing friendship with Serapio is lovely, but her entire story in this book felt like it was solely about Serapio and I’d’ve liked to have seen her have more of her own thing going on.
That’s terribly put, I know, but I’m trying very hard not to spoil anything. There are certainly things that happen to Xiala alone, but for someone who’s so independent she seemed to become very dependent on Serapio very quickly and, if I’m being completely honest, I wanted her to show a little more gumption. Given how this story ends, though, I’m guessing we’ll see more of that in the rest of the series.
I’d like to see more of Okoa, too, because I don’t think we follow him as much as the other three at all, but Serapio and Naranpa are fascinating. Again, given how this story ended, I’m looking forward to seeing where their stories go from here.
Is this one of my best reviews? Nope. But is this book worth checking out? Most definitely.