REVIEW: Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

(Disclaimer: This book is full of Indigenous worldbuilding. The reviewer in question is not Indigenous and is thus nowhere near the best source for thoughts/critique in those areas of the novel.  Our suggestions would be to take what you will from this, but to look to Indigenous reviewers as your primary source.)

I finished TRAIL OF LIGHTNING in a matter of days and it’s been quite some time since I’ve devoured any novel with such speed. Many have used MAD MAX as a comparison point for this book and while I can certainly see why, I’m not sure if it’s a truly accurate fit.  When I think of MAD MAX, I see a complete and utter desolation of the worst straight white male power fantasy variety.  The Sixth World certainly has plenty of devastation, but it doesn’t feel like a world that’s completely lost.  It’s a rebirth and much like learning how to walk you’re going to stumble and bust your ass a lot along the way but you don’t quit until you get it right.  That’s what I saw when I read this novel; a new world trying to figure out how to orient itself and tripping up along the way.

It’s what makes Maggie even more of a compelling lead. She’s perfectly placed here because of her own loss and need to understand her place in a very new world.  This poor monster hunter is a raging tide of internal conflict and Maggie’s overly harsh on herself in the way that so many good people tend to be.  And yes, that’s the judgement I’m running with on her despite some less than admirable choices in the course of the novel.  She wants to do the right thing to the point where it’s almost compulsory despite her pretensions of it being otherwise. In that regard, I’d place her more firmly into the category of Faith as opposed to Buffy (another comparison I’ve seen a few times).

The worldbuilding is obviously phenomenal.  Religion and mythology (though what is mythology but religion white people decided doesn’t count anymore?) was what formed the core of my reading as a young elementary kid.  It didn’t matter where in the world it came from.  I devoured it.  So to see such care given to it here and for it to be so damn entertaining took me right back to being that kid bugging the librarian for something new to read. The chapters in the Shalimar ignited my imagination. Every page with Coyote left me feeling like I had been in the room with him.  He throws so much shade and delights in all the smallest, cutting barbs. You will not be disappointed by what you read here, but again see the disclaimer above.

One of the things that gave me the most hope in this story and made me sort of dispel the MAD MAX comparison, is the Goodacre family.  Grace and her kids are a biracial family not doing so bad for themselves in this new world.  On a gut level for me, that made me go “ok this world can’t be all bad”.  Most dystopian worlds have people of color either vanished from the narrative or we’re regulated to die in service of the white main character’s journey. What does the opposite say? Well for this reader, the existence of the Goodacres predicates that this world has all the potential it needs to be a better one.

TRAIL OF LIGHTNING hits you as fast as its namesake and definitely leaves just as permanent a mark.  Believe the hype.

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