Trail of Lightning
By Rebecca Roanhorse
Hardcover, 287 pages
2018, Saga Press
Thank you to Saga and Wunderkind for providing me with a free copy in exchange for my honest review.
Mix a watery apocalypse with monsters and supernaturally gifted humans and add a dash of Native American folklore and a smattering of gods returned to Earth and you’ve got Trail of Lightning.
This book has everything you want from a post-apocalyptic novel: a climate crisis that wiped out most of the world’s population, a mish-mash of leftover tech and survivalist tactics, hideous monsters ravaging the remaining humans, humans developing superpowers to battle those monsters and bastard gods who have returned to Earth to mess with the survivors all blended together by an own-voices author.
Maggie Hoskie is a tough-as-nails monster hunter, gifted with clan powers that allow her super strength and speed; built to kill. But hunting and killing monsters paired with the loss of her friend and mentor, a literal god, have left her bitter. When she discovers what appears to be a new type of monster, she finds herself reluctantly teamed up with Kai Arviso, a medicine man. The two become embroiled in a plot between the gods that has bigger consequences than either bargained for.
What I love is that the post-apocalyptic theme is more of a background element. Yes, most of the world was destroyed by the event referred to as the Big Water and of course this effects Maggie’s surroundings and basically her entire life. But this is less of a story about navigating the aftermath and more about “the way things are now” if that makes sense. There’s no long-winded backstory rehashing the events of the Big Water. Roahhorse gives enough details so that readers get the gist of what happened, but she doesn’t sink so deep into the history of the world she created that you forget what’s going on in the present.
I know the post-apocalyptic descriptor can be a turnoff for some of you out there, but don’t let that stand in the way of you picking up this book. The focus is on the magical elements and the Dinétah culture.
Speaking of the culture, I love that it was a major player in this novel. I’m a longtime fan of the idea of gods living among the mortals and most of the Native American inspired fantasy I read comes by way of Charles de Lint. It’s better explained in the novel, but essentially those humans who find themselves with powers get them from their family clans. Your full clan name determines what powers might manifest. In Maggie’s case, she can only call on her powers in times of need (or sometimes when her adrenaline gets too high) and they only stick around briefly. Added to this the fact that gods like Coyote have come back to stir up trouble. One such god is Neizghání, god of lightning. Maggie’s relationship with him is a complicated one and it plays a big part in the story.
There’s a good balance between action scenes, tension and thought-provoking moments. There wasn’t so much action that I couldn’t keep up and I was never bored. Despite the lack of similarity between Maggie’s world and our own, I found a couple highly relevant quotes:
“Seems anywhere there’s a natural resource, there’s someone willing to hoard it for themselves to make more money than they can spend.”
“After all, there are plenty of human monsters too, just as twisted an evil as anything supernatural.”
The book isn’t without humorous moments, however:
“…saw a bunch of dead people, learned about a firestarter, and all I got was this lousy tote bag.”
As someone who owns like a million totes, I find this highly relatable.
If you’re looking for an own-voices post-apocalyptic fantasy novel with a focus on Native American culture and an awesome heroine who kicks tons of ass set in the desert, then you need to pick up Trail of Lightning. I can’t wait for the next book in the series!