Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
As a genre, urban fantasy has been on the decline lately. A few years ago, it was all the rage. I know, because I bought a LOT of it. It didn't take long for it to settle into an all-too-predictable trope--the tough white chick with a troubled past and a huge chip on her shoulder, fighting vampires/werewolves/Fae and various other mythical beasties, spouting sarcasm and snark all the while.
Now, we have Indigenous author Rebecca Roanhorse, turning that collection of cliches upside down.
In some ways, this fits squarely in the urban fantasy tradition. The protagonist has a troubled past and spews some delightful snark, and hunts monsters. What sets this book apart, however, is the main character and setting. Maggie Hoskie is Navajo, and this book is set on the Navajo reservation, or Dinetah. With worldwide flooding brought about by climate change, the reservation has been reborn into what their culture calls the Sixth World--and because of this, all their gods, myths and monsters now walk the earth in physical form.
That makes this book unique. It's a delight to read an urban (or rather rural, I guess) fantasy that is the polar opposite of the generic white American tradition. Almost every character we meet is a person of color, and we take a deep dive into Navajo culture, language and clans. We meet Coyote, who is far from the playful trickster I've read elsewhere (mostly written by white authors); here, he is nasty, mercurial and backstabbing. There are Navajo ghosts, zombies and immortal beings, and the tug-of-war between these creatures of myth and a dying technological culture makes for an interesting read.
This is a first novel, and like most first novels, it has a few rough edges. The plot is meandering in spots, the pacing could be tightened up, and some of the characters--particularly the villain--need a bit more depth. But Rebecca Roanhorse is a writer to keep an eye on, and I fully expect her to improve. I'll certainly check out the other books in the series.
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