It is so exciting to read such a fresh take on Urban Fantasy — I had been in tenterhooks for Rebecca Roanhorse’s Trail of Lightning and oh boy, it did not disappoint.
In a post-apocalyptic world of climate collapse where most of the world has drowned under rising waters, Dinétah — the Navajo reservation of yore — has been reshaped and reborn. Beings of legend now walk among humans and more even than that: some humans have developed supernatural powers, which are connected to the clans they belong to and are nearly always triggered by trauma.
Our protagonist, Maggie Hoskie, is a Dinétah monsterslayer, a gifted killer. Some would even say, a monster herself. When a girl goes missing, Maggie is tasked with the rescue — only to come across a monster hitherto unknown to walk the Earth. The ensuing investigation into the horrors caused by similar monsters will lead Maggie down a path of death, destruction and revisiting the traumatic events that spurred her own powers into life.
Coming along with her is a new partner, an enigmatic medicine man called Kai Arviso whose powers are equally mysterious. But perhaps not as mysterious as the advice “freely” given by the trickster Coyote.
There are several layers to Trail of Lightning, beautifully juxtaposed by the author. Starting with the world itself which draws inspiration from Navajo legend and stories then spiralling out into a story that mixes adventure, horror, violence in its main plotline with a coating of personal trauma from both Maggie and Kai.
Maggie is the viewpoint narrator here and I think I am not too far off if I say hers is an unreliable narrative, constructed by her twisted self-image. A horrific, traumatic event triggered her powers and the ensuing years were spent living in the shadows of an emotionally abusive mentor — who suddenly disappeared from her life about one year before the story starts. The complicated relationship Maggie had with her mentor is so incredibly well done here: there is no sense of shame from the story in showing Maggie’s tortured love and lust for this person, just as there is no sugar-coating of the fact that the guy has played a number on Maggie’s sense of self-worth and self-image. He is also a legendary hero, no less – it doesn’t escape me that Rebecca Roanhorse is also looking through the lenses of a very topical conversation here.
But going back to Maggie, her journey is such that combines a heroine’s journey of looking at herself and a Quest for answers — but all against the backdrop of Navajo legends, mores and history.
I also love her partner Kai: she is reluctant at first, slowly warming up to the idea of working with someone else, someone so different from her (and someone so different from her mentor too). There is a great twist to Kai’s story and I loved to read about their evolving relationship from reluctant allies and partners to friends and perhaps something more than that.
This was super great — and I am so, SO ready for more.In Booksmugglerish: 8 out of 10