Here’s a one-sentence review of Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse, that ought to tell you basically everything you need to know: I started it Saturday night at 10:30 PM, reading before going to sleep as I always do, and I had finished it by dinnertime the following day, and I worked from 11-5 on the day I finished it.
I woke up at 8:30 on a Sunday morning and rather than roll over and go back to sleep I grabbed a cup of coffee and took this book out onto my back porch to read outside for an hour or two before it got too hot. I realized after I’d been out there for an hour that I’d left my phone sitting next to my bed. Do you have any goddamn idea how rare it is for me to be more than ten feet from my phone for an hour?
(Okay, yeah, you probably do, but still.)
If that’s not enough, and if that gorgeous cover isn’t enough, how about the genre? Trail of Lightning is Navajo post-apocalyptic urban fantasy. And hard core Navajo, to the point where I feel kind of bad saying “Navajo” and not “Diné”. There are words in this book that contain letters that I don’t know the names of, guys.(*) A pronunciation guide would not have gone unappreciated.
Right, the story.
It is The Future. Global warming and sea level rise has gone way way worse than anyone imagined (it is hinted, but not explicitly stated, that something supernatural may have happened to make it worse) and as a result huge swaths of what used to be the United States– like the entire midwest– have drowned and Dinétah, the Navajo nation, is an independent nation-state on its own again. Maggie Hoskie is a social outcast who hunts monsters.
There are monsters, by the way.
I’m no hero. I’m more of a last resort, a scorched-earth policy. I’m the person you hire when the heroes have already come home in body bags.
That paragraph is from page 2. It was at that precise moment that I knew I was in and this book was going to be something special. Maggie is a bit of an asshole, so if you’re not the type to like abrasive first-person protagonists this may not quite be your cup of tea, but watching her hunt monsters and argue with trickster gods and do magic stuff and navigate the fascinating world that Rebecca Roanhorse has created was absolutely one of the biggest pleasures of the year so far with me. Trail of Lightning joins two other debut novels by women of color– Jade City and The Poppy War— that are guaranteed to be on my top 10 list at the end of the year. Roanhorse’s prose is clear and accessible and the book absolutely flies; this is the kind of novel that I want to write as much as I want to read it.
I’m just not going to try and read it out loud. 🙂
(*) hataałii, for example– I have no idea what to do with that L–, or yá’át’ééh, which has accents and apostrophes. No italics for the Navajo words, either, which is great, unless you’re scanning for words you don’t know and don’t have that to help you. (**)
(**) Audio on the web is inconsistent, but the ł may be pronounced like a W.