Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

Trail of Lightning is clearly one of this summer’s fantasy book “blockbusters”: fun, fresh, and exciting.

This Urban Fantasy takes place on what was once a Navajo reservation in the United States. After the Energy Wars, and multiple terrible natural catastrophes, there’s little left of the US though. Instead, the Navajo homeland Dinétah has been reborn – complete with old gods and old magic. And old monsters.

Maggie Hoskie hunts those monsters, armed with blade, bullets, and her supernatural clan powers. She’s also in a terrible slump after her teacher, the immortal Monsterslayer, abandoned her. But then her most recent hunt results in some unexpected revelations and Maggie tumbles head first into a larger intrigue and adventure.

The elevator pitch for this book is “an indigenous Mad Max: Fury Road” and, you know, that’s a fair comparison. Not that the plot mirrors MM:FR. But it is a gritty post-apocalyptic desert setting, complete with a breakdown of society, cool leather jackets, and cars and motorbikes running on whatever fuel you can find. It’s just very fun. Also like in MM:FR, the worldbuilding is given to you in little hints and off-hand references (who exactly fought in the Energy Wars?), which I always love.

Of course, the other main draw of the book is that it incorporates the Navajo culture and characters from traditional Navajo beliefs. I adore books that draw on traditional mythology; while I love seeing reinterpretations of stories I grew up with (hello, The Bear and the Nightingale), I’m just as excited to read ones I know next to nothing about. You really never know the limits then: what monsters might show up, what someone who is “Big Medicine” can do, whether it’s possible to defeat an immortal…

I also really enjoyed the characters, particularly the two main ones. Maggie is a hard-ass and in a perpetually bad mood, but her willingness to throw herself into fights and a hidden vulnerable streak made her very likable anyway. (Also, the past she’s haunted by was unexpected in a great way for me. Spoilers for what the backstory ISN’T if you highlight: It isn’t rape!! Hallelujah I’m so happy.)

She’s also softened by her companion, the Medicine Man Kai. He’s very charming, a smooth talker, and has his own secrets. While I’m often just as happy for characters to eventually end up good friends rather than a couple, in this case I was rabidly shipping the two by the end of their first scene together. She’s anti-social and her main way of solving problems is to murder everything, he smiles a lot and prefers to try talking to people instead. They’d make the perfect power couple!

The bit that was actually the weakest for me was the plot itself. While there’s an overarching mystery and quest, it didn’t feel that intriguing to me. To be honest, it felt like it wasn’t that intriguing to the characters until near the end either. On the other hand, it didn’t really need to be. If the next few books were just learning about the different communities living in Dinétah and following Maggie and Kai as they grow closer, with the odd sprinkling of badass and exhilarating fight scenes, it’d be more than enough for me.

One last comment I’d like to add is on the usage of the Navajo language in the book. The odd words are peppered in, with no direct translation given for most of them. I thought this worked great. I believe strongly in normalising code-switching (i.e. switching between languages within one conversation, i.e. something normal to many bilinguals) in general; how people talk always adds to the immersion. There’s no glossary, but I didn’t feel like I needed one, even if I maybe missed the exact connotations of a word. I do, however, wish there’d been a little note on how the spelling system works! After half an hour on Google and Youtube I found all the info I needed, but I think a short explanation at the back would have been helpful.

Trail of Lightning was a very fun read and I’m looking forward to the sequel! I especially recommend this book for:

  • Fans of urban fantasy
  • Fans of post-apocalyptic settings
  • People who like fun action scenes
  • People interested in stories based on Native American cultures
  • People looking for badass female protagonists
  • Fans of Mad Max: Fury Road duh

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