I pull my knees to my chest, feeling myself irrationally offended at being rejected by a sentient casino.
Rebecca Roanhorse’s second THE SIXTH WORLD book, Storm of Locusts (2019), continues to deliver on the promise of Trail of Lightning. Maggie, a Navajo monsterslayer (or now, as some call her, Godslayer) ventures outside the magical walls of the Navajo reservation to stop a magically enhanced terrorist from destroying it. She also mourns the loss of Kai Arviso, the son of a god, who helped her in the first book. Maggie now carries the Lightning Sword, but she doesn’t know how to activate it.
Maggie takes a bounty hunter job with the Thirsty Boys, seeking a man who calls himself The White Locust. He is a cult leader who is collecting explosives. The search goes wrong, and Maggie ends up caring for Ben, the niece of the Thirsty Boys’ leader. Then her allies, the Goodacre twins, ask her to help them find their younger brother Clive, who has been abducted. The trail leads her and her friends outside the wall of the Dinetah, the Navajo homeland, into a beautifully surreal “Malpais,” the outside world.
The geopolitics of the former USA were shattered in a series of natural disasters and global warming, which drowned cities, changed coastlines and destabilized government and currency. In the wake of the Big Water, smaller nation-states have sprung up, and Maggie’s quest means she has to interact with several of these.
Like Maggie and Kai, Ben has active clan powers. She is a quick and nimble climber, and she can track a person from their blood. Along the way, the shape-shifter Mosi joins them for a while. Their quest to rescue Kai and stop the White Locust leads them to Knifetown, where the town elders trade in human slaves and human organs, to a sentient casino, to a houseboat on Lake Powell and ultimately to a defunct resort. Rissa Goodacre, who has never quite trusted Maggie before, lets her guard down to some extent, but as the story progresses Rissa has other doubts. (Here’s a spoiler. Highlight the text if you want to read it: Kai has resurrected and is alive, but it seems like he’s under the influence of the White Locust. And it’s clear that some of their at-least-momentary allies are not, and will never be, friends.
Roanhorse uses Storm of Locusts’ present tense and short chapters to good effect, creating a propulsive, breakneck pace. She leaves enough time for Maggie to reflect on her past, her purpose, and why she keeps pushing people away. The growing trust between Maggie and Rissa lets her explore each character more deeply, and the descriptions of the southwest reminded me of Edward Abbey at his intentionally strangest. I loved the weirdness, the beauty and the action sequences in the climax.
Maggie is still a prickly character who clings to self-destructive thoughts and patterns, but the growing circle of friends is calling on her to re-evaluate. Ben is a welcome addition to the mix, and her impetuosity makes her a good foil for Maggie.
If anything obstructed me enjoyment of this book, it might be those short chapters. The plot is well-thought-out, but, reading it, I felt scattered at times, and it seemed mostly to do with the rhythm. That’s a small problem. Storm of Locusts didn’t disappoint, and THE SIXTH WORLD is shaping up to be an original and wonderful series.