Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

Read May 2019
Recommended for fans of Kate Daniels
★   ★   ★  


The short version:

Kate Daniels fans need to give this one a try.

The long version:

Interesting world-building, taking off on the Native American idea of subsequent ‘worlds’ that happen with each upheaval (this concept is explained more later in the story). The integration with various Native mythologies–I think primarily Diné, although the world idea might be more universal–is very interesting and one of the aspects that will make this stand out for urban fantasy and supernatural fans. Setting is a post-apocalyptic world, after various environmental and political upheavals have fragmented what used to be known as the United States. Much of this is alluded to, but not well explained (yet–hints are that this will expand in the next book), which is actually one of my favorite ways for world-building to develop. 

The more problematic aspect for me is the main character, Maggie, aka ‘The Monsterkiller,’ who draws upon two different tribal ‘gifts.’ As a character, she feels very New Adult, with unresolved issues from her teen days, an unrequited crush, and a extra-generous helping of rage, denial and isolation standing in for the remaining development. It’s a tired trope for me, but at least there seems to be some forward character development at the end. 

As fitting for new-adult development, there are issues of love/relationship that need to be worked out, although arguably, they aren’t the primary focus for this book. That is to say, I’d not call this a relationshippy style of book, although I recognize that feelings of isolation/attraction and unresolved mentoring issues are part of the driver and underlying plot. I have a problem when these characters act jaded and knowledgeable but then remain willfully ignorant. In this case, she notes then ignores strangeness surrounding Kai, and plotwise, keeps getting interrupted before it’s addressed. That’s always an extremely annoying YA/NA move. Since the strangeness is telegraphed to the reader, the only one semi-surprised at reveal is the main character. 

In plotting, I found it to be a tricksy book, as befitting anything with Coyote in it. Though it starts ostensibly simple (‘kill the monster’), it becomes more complex. Kind of like an Andrews plot, and like Kate Daniels, Maggie doesn’t do much detecting–other people tell her what to do, or it moves forward because she antagonizes someone.

Writing is above-average, especially for a first book. It is in first person, present tense, which is unusual. I wonder if the present tense is a deliberate reflection of a Diné cultural structure. A lot significant amount of the story is description coupled with explanation. A sample section about Maggie and her friend:

“I like Tah, I really do, and he’s the closest thing I have to a living relative. We aren’t related, aren’t even the same clan, but he calls me daughter. That means something.

I duck under the blanket and break into a grin. I can’t help it. My trailer is shelter. It serves its purpose as far as a house goes, but Tah’s hogan feels like a home, the kind of home they talk about in bedtime stories. It’s a traditional hogan–one big room in an eight-sided building, walls made of long single-cut logs, tightly roped together and sealed with concrete. There’s a cooking fire alread burning in the woodstove in the middle of the room, and the scent of pinon is so pleasantly sharp I can taste it on the tip of my tongue. Warm woven rugs in reds and oranges and browns hang from the walls in between aging picture frames filled with worn photos of smiling family members…”

Would I read it again? Possibly, to better absorb the world, because with such long paragraphs of description, it’s tend to slide over them as the plot heats up. But I did buy the next for kindle. I’m not sure that the series is physical-space worthy, but this was a promising start.

Elena’s brilliant review addressing the problematic feminism of the trope and how Roanhorse executes it:…

About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
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5 Responses to Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

  1. alicegristle says:

    What’s “New Adult”? I admit ignorance here. 😀

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