Rebecca Roanhorse is mashing up post-apocalyptic chaos, indigenous culture and mythology, and monster slaying for a wild ride in The Sixth World series starter Trail of Lightning!
Pitched as an indigenous Mad Max: Fury Road, the novel follows Maggie Hoskie, a gritty teen from Dinétah– the new name for the Navajo reservation after most of the world is wiped out by a worldwide flood. In the wake of “Big Water,” the Navajo gods return to the land and the various clan powers of the Dinétah people awaken, but with that comes vicious monsters. Maggie’s rare clan powers and unique background that make her the resident monster slayer– cynical, street smart, and awesomely lethal.
When Maggie encounters a new brand of monsters unlike anything the reservation has seen, she suspects witchcraft is at play– and suspects she knows the witch’s identity. It leads her into a reluctant partnership with Kai, the grandson of a revered medicine man with fierce healing powers and the slickest personality on the rez. As if monster hunting wasn’t tough enough, they’ll face challenges around every corner, from trickster gods demanding favors to corrupt police with a grudge. Everyone has a scheme, meaning Maggie and Kai will have to come up with one of their own if they ever hope to find the source of these monsters and put a stop to them.
For all its wild fantasy and twists, Trail of Lightning’s appeal is thanks to its cast of characters. Maggie is a take-no-prisoners badass with a dark past and an untouchable, cool demeanor. Her hard edges are worn down by Kai, who comes off as a bit of a bro, but who is also a consummate charmer whose skills complement Maggie’s strength. There’s a strong cast of secondary characters, ranging from the mischievous god Coyote to a bar owner turned militarized stronghold matron. My character love is not to overshadow the smart, intensive world building that Roanhorse does for her characters. She’s no slouch in the “massive apocalyptic event and fallout” department, by any means. The author gives her characters a veritable playground to roam and in return, the dialogue really brings their circumstances to life.
Roanhorse also does an excellent job meshing the action and the backstory, avoiding that opening info dump drag that many books battle. The story is mostly movement with conversations happening along the way. There’s always something to get caught up in. It might be sensory overload for some readers, but it worked out for me. Usually, I’m pretty good at seeing where the story is headed and what twists await. With a small exception, Trail of Lightning was unpredictable and I really enjoyed that vibe.
My only problem was the pacing is that book one didn’t feel like a complete story arc in itself– It’s clearly a small part of a larger story and the ending comes very quickly without much exploration of the major events before it.
While some of this story is rather dark and gory, I do think this story qualifies as upper YA, despite the debate. Yes, it’s speculative fiction and fantasy, but it can be all of the above, even with a 19-year-old MC. I wouldn’t suggest it for younger crowds, any teen who can handle sexual suggestion and buckets of blood can take this novel on.
If you’re looking for a frantic whirlwind adventure with Native American flair told by an ownvoices author, Trail of Lightning is here for you!
RATING: 4.5 OUT OF 5 STARS
While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters.
Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last—and best—hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much larger and more terrifying than anything she could imagine.
Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel to the rez to unravel clues from ancient legends, trade favors with tricksters, and battle dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology.
As Maggie discovers the truth behind the disappearances, she will have to confront her past—if she wants to survive.
Welcome to the Sixth World.