RHC 2018: Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

Read Harder Challenge 2018

This post is part of a series in which I describe the twenty-four books I read in 2018 for Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge

Task: Read a book with a cover you hate.

Alternatives: Read a western, read a sci fi novel with a female protagonist written by a female author. 

I feel like a jerk for choosing this book for this task. To be fair, “hate” is a strong word here – I mostly just wanted to read Trail of Lightning and this was the closest task I could get to it.

However, I really don’t care for novels with illustrations of the main characters on the cover generally. It makes me feel like my toes are being stepped on by forcing a picture into my head. I read comics when I’m feeling like engaging that side of my brain (and I love comics!).That said, it’s worth noting that the characters on the cover of this book are Native and that I definitely should not be complaining about the appearance of badass women of color showing up on book jackets. Also, to be clear, Maggie isn’t hypersexualized or out-of-proportion or anything, so it could be much, much worse. So apologies to the artist – this is strictly a personal taste thing, and if anyone even remotely connected to this book sees this, just, you know, ignore me, my grumpy old person-ness, and my weird hang ups about seeing characters before reading about them.

Like I said, I really wanted to read this book, and I was not in any way disappointed.

Rebecca Roanhorse wrote an awesome short story published at Apex Magazine that won an astonishing slate of awards, and deserved every one of them – Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™. That story had a ton to say about identity, cultural expectation, and appropriation, and you should go read it right now.

Cool. Now that you’re back, Trail of Lightning is also concerned with identity and cultural expectation, but in a much, much different way that centers indigenous identity and experience on its own terms, having largely removed the prism of white America altogether. In the world of the book, a cataclysmic flood has wiped out most of North America, and the Navajo Nation (Dinétah) has reemerged – along with its gods, heroes, and monsters. There’s a connection to climate change there (hence my tentatively suggesting it might be a sci fi book too), but the flood more significantly marks the end of a world cycle and a beginning of a new one.

Maggie is a monster hunter who benefits from clan powers (inherited superpowers that only manifest in certain individuals, basically), who’s still reeling from the loss of her superhuman mentor under odd circumstances and who lives under the assumption that she’s good for killing and not much else. Roanhorse stated in an interview with Tor.com that clan powers are completely made up, since, you know, this is fantasy! But there are some other elements of Navajo mythology that even someone as far away from that culture as I am could recognize, as well as a fantastic world full of interesting people that I thoroughly enjoyed spending time in. Maggie and her story are thrillingly, unimpeachably badass, too. It’s very hard to put down – I read it over a weekend, and long stretches of reading time aren’t exactly an attribute of my life right now.

This was one of the most fun things I’ve read this year, and I would enthusiastically recommend it for urban fantasy readers.


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