Review: Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

Review: Black Sun by Rebecca RoanhorseBlack Sun (Between Earth and Sky, #1) by Rebecca Roanhorse
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Between Earth and Sky #1
Pages: 464
Published by Saga Press on October 13, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

From the New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Resistance Reborn comes the first book in the Between Earth and Sky trilogy, inspired by the civilizations of the Pre-Columbian Americas and woven into a tale of celestial prophecies, political intrigue, and forbidden magic.
A god will returnWhen the earth and sky convergeUnder 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.

My Review:

Start out by throwing out any expectations you might have about good versus evil and/or heroes versus villains that might have popped into your head because this Black Sun is labelled as high fantasy or epic fantasy.

We have protagonists here. Points of view. Perspectives. But strictly speaking all of the characters are operating somewhere in the grey, in the shadows created by the solar eclipse that produces the “black sun” of the title.

Everything in this story is on a collision course with that eclipse, an event that the Sun Priests of the great city of Tova call the Convergence. This particular Convergence is going to occur on the Winter Solstice, as the moon eats the sun on the shortest day of the year. And the Sun God is at the lowest point of his power. A point where he might be challenged.

An event that this time, on this once in a lifetime occasion, could result in overturning the balance of the world.

But we begin at the beginning, when a woman sacrifices her life to make her son into an offering – or an opening – for the god of her people. Now blind, scarred and rejected by his father, Serapio faces a series of cruel tutors who prepare him for the role that his mother ordained for him.

This is the story of his journey to meet his destiny. But he is not the only person who will rise or fall on the prophesied day.

His story intersects with two others, a disgraced ship’s captain and the deposed leader of the Sun Temple.

And this is the point where the story could go any number of typical directions – but doesn’t.

Serapio could be the hero – but he can only achieve his destiny by killing the entire hierarchy of the Sun Temple. The Sun Temple should be the forces of good, but they have been corrupted by power and cast out the only truly good person among them.

Captain Xiala should be entirely self-serving, but instead shows Serapio the wonders of the world, just as he is about to leave it.

This is a story where nothing is as it seems – and marvelously and magically so.

Escape Rating A: Epic fantasy, which this oh-so-very-much is, usually wraps its dramatic tension around an epic – hence the name – battle between good and evil. That just doesn’t happen here, and now that I think about it, that feels like something that’s not been happening for a while, in spite of the genre’s reputation for it. And I don’t expect one here, not even later in the trilogy. In spite of this being epic fantasy rather than space opera, Black Sun is very much a romance of political agency.

Not that there isn’t plenty of evil – and a smattering of good – but it’s human scale evil and human-shaped and sized good.

The one unequivocally “good” character in this story is Naranpa, the Sun Priestess of Tova and the leader of the world-spanning religion that is centered in the city. She knows that her order has stopped serving its people, becoming isolated and insular in their literal ivory towers, spending all of their time and energy on petty, political squabbles amongst themselves.

The Sun Temple hierarchy is “evil” but it’s the human evil wrapped around the aphorism about power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely. The Sun Temple has had nearly absolute power and it has corrupted them. It has corrupted them so deeply that they depose and attempt to murder the one person within their ranks who even attempts to call them on it.

Part of that evil is that they conducted a purge, essentially a pogrom of religious persecution, against one of the population groups within the capital that did not completely bow down to the supremacy of the Sun Temple. And they are planning to do it again in order to remain in power. Serapio’s quest, the duty that he was created for, is to give his people, the Carrion-Crows, vengeance for that purge – and to prevent a repeat by purging the Sun Temple first.

But we follow Serapio’s and Naranpa’s stories, giving both dimensions a human face and a human scale. In spite of Serapio’s purpose as the avatar of his people’s god, he’s still very human, and we feel for him on his journey, just as we suffer along with Naranpa’s hopes and fears as her hopes for her temple are dashed and her fears are made manifest.

As I read Black Sun, I kept having this feeling that it reminded me of something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. At first I thought it was Banewreacker and Godslayer by Jacqueline Carey. That duology was one of the best presentations about “good” and “evil” being in the eye of the beholder – along with the eye of the victorious historian – that I have ever read. Those books always come to mind in situations like this one, where those concepts feel more like a wheel where the perception of which is which depends on the position from which they are viewed.

But in the end, and after much discussion, I was presented with the possibility that the story this most reminds me of is A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine, even though Empire is space opera and Sun is epic fantasy. Those two genres are so far apart as to come together on the other side of the wheel, after all.

It’s not just that both Black Sun and A Memory Called Empire are utterly awesome, although they both certainly are. Nor is it that both have their mythological underpinnings somewhere other than the much too familiar trappings of Western European mythology.

There were two factors that contributed to that nagging sense that the books had more in common than met the eye. One was the portrayal of the empires, because yes, the Temple of the Sun is the heart of its own kind of empire. Both empires publicly espouse the idea that they serve their people, perversely by deciding things for them and suppressing any dissent. Both are actually completely insular and riddled with backstabbing politics and double-dealing corruption. And both are shaken to their foundations by an internal reformer at the top who is ruthlessly suppressed by the political insiders.

At the same time, both stories also feature a journey by someone who must travel from far outside into the dark heart of that empire, someone who has faced opposition to their mission from before its beginning, and someone whose mission is not entirely clear to them even as they carry it out.

And both stories end in ways that none of their protagonists expected at the beginning, in ways that none of them even believed were possible, let alone likely, but ways that are going to fuel the action in the next chapter of their respective sagas.

I don’t know when the second book in the Between Earth and Sky trilogy will be coming out. But I already can’t wait to see what happens next!

Review: Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

Review: Trail of Lightning by Rebecca RoanhorseTrail of Lightning (The Sixth World, #1) by Rebecca Roanhorse
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: post apocalyptic, urban fantasy
Series: Sixth World #1
Pages: 287
Published by Saga Press on June 26, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

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—and best—hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much larger and more terrifying than anything she could imagine.

Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel to the rez to unravel clues from ancient legends, trade favors with tricksters, and battle dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology.

As Maggie discovers the truth behind the disappearances, she will have to confront her past—if she wants to survive.

Welcome to the Sixth World.

My Review:

I’ve had Trail of Lightning in my “virtually towering TBR pile” for quite a while, but hadn’t gotten the round tuit necessary to actually give it the time it deserved. After three romances in a row, I just wasn’t in the mood for any more romance – and Trail of Lightning is on the recently announced Hugo Ballot for Best Novel. It just felt like the right time to get it out and finally get all the way into it.

And it was a WOW! Also exactly what I was in the mood for.

The story manages to be both part of the post-apocalyptic/urban fantasy tradition and fresh and new all at the same time. It’s also an exemplar of the idea that making sure that #ownvoices stories don’t merely get told but also get promoted and receive award nominations does not in any way detract from the quality of the genre.

Because this story is simply awesome. That it is told from a perspective we have not traditionally seen in genre does not make it any less part of the genre. It makes it better because the author knows whereof she speaks.

Trail of Lightning takes place in a post-apocalyptic world. The apocalypse in question is referred to as the “Big Water” – but it’s an apocalypse that we can see from here. At least in its more mundane aspects.

There’s a saying that nature bats last, and the “Big Water” is an example of nature taking that “at bat”, with a little help from at least some of the gods – and bringing back some of the monsters, along with magic.

The population of the world has been decimated, as Nature decided to bring all the consequences of global warming down all at once. All the low-lying coastal regions of all the countries around the world are gone.

But the powers-that-were in the Four Corners region, an area currently under the jurisdiction of the Navajo Nation, were prescient enough to erect massive border walls around their country, Dinétah. With the help of their Gods.

When the Big Water came, the Dinétah was safe behind its walls, at least from anything coming in from the outside. Not that there aren’t plenty of both human and other monsters inside Dinétah with them.

That’s where Maggie Hoskie comes in. Maggie is A monsterslayer, trained by THE Monsterslayer of legend, Neizghání. But her teacher has left her on her own, and left her with the dark sense that she is much too close to becoming one of the monsters herself.

The story of Trail of Lightning is Maggie’s journey out of the pit of despair she has dug herself into and back out into, if not the light, then back into a world that definitely needs her even if it doesn’t always want her.

Along the way, she’ll have to fight monsters, monsterslayers, and the monster inside herself. And she’ll have to get the best of the god who’s been playing her all along.

Escape Rating A: I loved this one. Not only is it an epic heroine’s journey, but the world created by the story is absolutely fascinating.

I want to say that Maggie is a likeable heroine, because that what we always say. But she isn’t really likeable much of the time. She is flawed, scarred, scared and relatable, but she’s extremely prickly, to put it mildly.

She doesn’t trust easily, and often when she does, she finds out later that she shouldn’t. She’s tough and no-nonsense on the outside, and broken on the inside. That some of the things that have broken her are literally monsters doesn’t make her any less relatable in her broken-ness.

We all get broken by monsters – even if those monsters wear a human face.

Elements of this story had echoes for me from other SF and fantasy that I have read. The post-flood US of American War, the Dinétah setting of the Leaphorn, Chee and Manuelito series, the monster-hunting, coming-into-her-power heroine of The Walker Papers, the many faces and tricks of Coyote from the Iron Druid Chronicles, and last but not least, the discovery of the trickster behind the entire plot from American Gods.

Those are all awesome antecedents in their own extremely different ways, and Trail of Lightning stands tall in their company. Tall enough to draw plenty of lightning.

This is the first post-apocalyptic weird west urban fantasy I’ve ever read – but it certainly won’t be the last. The second book in the Sixth World series, Storm of Locusts came out this week!