Maggie Hoskie, the prickly heroine of Rebecca Roanhorse’s Trail of Lightning (2018), and I took a couple of tries to really hit it off. I read a few chapters of this book several months ago but stalled out and put it aside. But when the announcement of its Nebula award nomination happened to coincide with a cross-country plane flight, I picked up this again and ended up loving it.
Trail of Lightning is a gritty magical fantasy set in Dinétah, the nation of the Navajo people, in a near-future, post-apocalyptic world. Much of the world is now underwater due to a sudden catastrophe (the “Big Water”) caused by a convergence of global warming and other ecological disasters, some ten or so years before this story begins. In this “Sixth World” setting, portals to other, magical planes have been reopened and both the gods and monsters of the Navajo legends are once again an active part of our world, and the always-respected ancestral clans of the Diné or Navajo people carry new weight, with many clans now gifted with magical powers that are specific to that group. Dinétah is now magically surrounded by 50-foot walls to protect it against the dangers of the outside world. Too bad about the monsters within … But they do give Maggie Hoskie lots to do once she breaks out of the months-long funk she’s in at the start of the novel.
Maggie Hoskie is a magically gifted Navajo young woman who reminded me strongly of Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels, except Maggie is angrier and in a darker place mentally. She is a monsterslayer, gifted with supernatural swiftness from her Honághááhnii clan and fighting skills from her K’aahanáanii clan, but Maggie feels like she herself also is, or may become, a monster, dangerous to anyone she lets close to her. So she pushes everyone away. But when Maggie kills a murderous golem-like monster and begins to search for its origin, she finds she needs help. Kai Arviso, a young medicine man in training, and the trickster god Coyote both get involved in Maggie’s unconventional and dangerous investigation.
There are a few drawbacks in the storytelling: The plot meanders somewhat as Maggie gropes her way toward a showdown with the maker of the monsters and her antagonists. As the mystery unraveled, I thought that the final reveal was a little murky in its rationale, so the mystery and its resolution didn’t entirely hold water for me. I did appreciate how what initially appeared to be somewhat of a love triangle ended with Roanhorse turning that trope on its head.
Trail of Lightning is a gritty novel with many dark, disturbing scenes. The second chapter ends with a distressing choice by Maggie, especially since the need for that choice is arguably undercut by reveals toward the end. But this novel has scenes of light and hope as well, and I enjoyed immersing myself in this world. I’m definitely on board for Storm of Locusts, the next book in THE SIXTH WORLD series, to be published April 23, 2019.