Review: TRAIL OF LIGHTNING by Rebecca Roanhorse

Roanhorse’s debut novel takes the wheel from beloved monster-hunters like the Winchester Brothers, makes a fast break into a post-apocalyptic setting, and delivers on its promises.TRAIL OF LIGHTNING by Rebecca Roanhorse (cover)

After the Energy Wars, the world below 3,500-feet is under the Big Water and what was once the Navajo reservation—now Diné—is one of humanity’s few strongholds. Legendary heroes and holy figures intermingle with the five-fingered mortals in this new Sixth World and a monster unfamiliar to all of them is threatening what little peace the people of Diné can muster. When no one else answers a town’s pleas for help, Maggie Hoskie drags herself and her weapons out of her trailer to assist. Even after her years fighting alongside the immortal Monsterslayer himself, though, she’s shocked at the carnage the new monster brings. Unwilling, unworthy, she seeks answers she’s not sure she wants to find. Along for the ride is attractive, flirtatious, peace-loving Kai Arviso, a medicine-man-in-training who is convinced he can convince Maggie to drop her guard and accept his friendship, eventually.

The banter, the intermittent gore, the self-assured and self-deprecating humor all reminded me of Supernatural at its best. What Trail of Lightning does better is navigating its main character’s troubled past in a linear fashion, right alongside the external conflict (e.g., monsters). There aren’t thirty-five I’m sorry, fifteen seasons in which to develop Maggie’s character, but there are the confines of Roanhorse’s chosen first-person, present-tense telling. Maggie might have no desire to revisit her past, to work through her emotional and psychological wounds, but even in her most resistant moments, she grows more and more sympathetic.

And Maggie has plenty history to run from. The novel’s horror is not confined to the physical present by any means. The trauma of the Big Water—when billions of people died—echoes in every life, in every hardship. Maggie’s experiences with more personal violence, past and present, haunt her. Roanhorse does not shy away from delving: scars are as powerful weapons as they are weaknesses.

This is true of more than just Maggie’s story. Though centuries removed from the European colonization of North America, Diné and its inhabitants still feel the trauma of genocide and displacement, of the often tense relationship between those living in Diné and those with authority over the lands beyond. But of course generational trauma would survive the Big Water, when oral and personal histories would become even more important, even more prized.

Roanhorse’s novel is fast-paced, full of heart, and a darn fun read. But I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that my review is far from the only one you should read. As settler, a non-Indigenous woman, there is a lot of Maggie’s experience and culture that I cannot evaluate as more than an observer at a window. I am not well-versed in Navajo history, Diné religion, or even the immediate geography of the reservation. Roanhorse has received praise and censure for this novel from Diné reviewers, and the conversations they have had about her depiction of their beliefs and culture are essential. While I loved stepping beyond the confines of a Judeo-Christian mythos for this jaunt, it is not my place to say whether Roanhorse did justice to the figures she called on for her tale.

But as a reviewer, I can say this much: give me more. Give me more monster-hunters with the power of their POC/Indigenous ancestors. Give me more badass women confronting their past and refusing to be good for goodness’s sake. Give me more reflections on the problems people face now, wrapped in a delicious narrative. If we have more stories like this, we won’t need to worry about one novel or one writer’s work standing as a token for an entire culture. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, Storm of Locusts, and to delving into other Native American and other indigenous speculative fiction in the near future.

On a personal note: I did purchase a copy of this novel for review, and I also read it via ebook on Overdrive. That’s also how I’ll be reading the sequel in coming weeks. Support your local libraries!

If you’re looking for other speculative fiction by Native American writers, Roanhorse recommended these books via Tor in 2018. This list from 2016 shares some recommendations and differs, too; it includes WALKING THE CLOUDS, which I read and very much enjoyed a few years ago.

Review: JADE CITY and JADE WAR by Fonda Le

Lee’s Jade City and Jade War begin a family saga in which magic and loyalty are more treasured than life itself. In the sprawling, metropolitan capital of an island nation, family-run clans teeter on the edge of deadly conflict as the world seeks covert control of their cultural and magical wellspring: jade that offers the right bearers impossible physical power. A synthetic drug offers the addictive, dangerous power to anyone and the itch for jade begins to spread.  fondalee-e1564156868181

With the echoes of Kekon’s civil war dying with its elders, the nation’s younger generations are coming into power, and the No Peak Clan’s scions are no more ready for that burden than any of history’s princelings. Kaul Lanshinwan may have been raised as his grandfather’s successor, but rising to fill the shoes his late, larger-than-life, war-hero father left empty has already cost him dearly. His brother, Hiloshudon, on the other hand, may be too ready to be his brother’s right-hand-man, the clan’s street-enforcer. Together, they seem strong enough to face anything—except maybe all-out war with their rival clan over black-market jade sales and territorial encroachment. For that, they’ll need family. Long removed from clan business is their sister, Shaelinsan, who will not wear jade. The Kauls’ younger, adopted cousin, Emery Anden, cannot wear jade until he graduates. And for the Kauls, everything is written in terms of jade. Those that wear it can be powerful and vulnerable as corporeal gods. Those who cannot—or who choose not to—walk a tenuous line beside them. But the price of that jade will always be blood.

Calling the Green Bone Saga books “The Godfather with magic and kung fu” (as Lee has previously) is as succinct a summary as can be made, but talking only about how much fun these books are misses the craft that underpins them. The fight scenes are tense, physical, but don’t go over the head of someone without a strong awareness of martial arts. The characters’ competence hamstrings them as often as it helps, and their motivations are clear, personal, palpable. The twists are as gut-wrenching as the violent decisions the characters make to gain or maintain power. And the momentum carries straight through both books, and I rarely find book twos to be as strong as their companions. The family ties and addictive, consuming magic remind me of Melanie Rawn’s Dragon Prince series, another sweeping epic albeit one with a far different setting. Combining the force of epic fantasy with familiar, urban set dressings and the gritty feel of a mob story just hit all the right notes for me. The sum of this: Lee sets the bar high for herself and others. Jade City and Jade War are page-turners that do not let up, and I expect nothing less of Jade Legacy when it arrives.

On a personal note: I do know Fonda, but happily purchased both books on my own with no incentive from Fonda or her publisher. I also listened to these books on Audible and very much enjoyed Andrew Kishino’s performance.

Review: THE LESSON by Cadwell Turnbull

In his debut novel, Turnbull staes an alien invasion in the US Virgin Islands, where extraterrestrial Ynaa join a long line of human colonizers determined to dominate all those that came before.

The Lesson by Cadwell Turnbull
THE LESSON by Cadwell Turnbull

This is not as much a story of the terror of first contact, but life years later, when some St. Thomas residents have welcomed their new normal and others have reached a point of no return. Derrick dares to extend an olive branch. His young sister, Lee, just wants the distraction of the Ynaa to disappear. Their friend and neighbor Patrice and their grandmother Henrietta face separate crises of faith. Patrice’s mother Aubrey sees possibility while her father, Jackson, clings to scraps of his life before.

But continual unease begins to fester: the gruesome death of a human boy at the hands of a vengeful Ynaa rocks St. Thomas, and the Ynaa ambassador’s mediation feels increasingly futile. As individuals try to stem the tide of violence and terror in a nation so used to paying for its freedom with blood, what began for some as a clear mission for sovereignty warps beyond recognition.

Turnbull’s narrative is measured, calm, until it isn’t, a thundercloud too easily written off until it looms above you. The central, external conflict remains taut and ever-present, even as Turnbull explores the deeply individual experiences of each character with an awareness and love of place rooted in his own history there. What surfaces is an acknowledgement that some horrors only displace the ones that came before, a story of resistance, survival, and hope.

I, for one, am looking forward to more from Turnbull.

On a more personal note: I know Cadwell personally and did receive an advance copy of The Lesson from his publisher in exchange for an honest review. I wish I could say that I had a solid grounding in the history of St. Thomas before reading this book, but approached it armed only with my high school history education. Also, I did actually listen to this title, and very much enjoyed Janina Edwards’s and Ron Butler’s narration.

Podcast Live: “The Moon, the Sun, and the Truth”

This week has been one of anxiety, grief, frustration, and rage for me. I have felt hopeless, powerless, and exhausted. I don’t often talk politics online, if only because I Cast of Wonders Promo Image for "The Moon, the Sun, and the Truth" by Victoria Sandbrook, narratedby Alexis Goble, Cast of Wonders 309. Image shows desert plants at sunset.don’t often know what more to say when there are so many experts–self-proclaimed and otherwise–to whom the masses can listen. But let me be clear about this: what is happening on our Southern border cuts me to the core. I believe it to be unethical by every standard I use for measuring such things. Condoning the people or policies that allowed this to happen is equally unacceptable. Silence is complicity.

I don’t think I’ve put any of these feelings into words better than “The Moon, the Sun, and the Truth” (Shimmer, Issue #38). Maybe that’s why, for me, hearing the story air as a podcast on Cast of Wonders (Episode 309) was such a balm today. I needed to stand with some people doing something (even if they’re fictional). I needed to hear the small hope that lives on in the depths of a dystopia (even one that doesn’t feel as far-fetched as it did when I wrote it a mere year and a half ago). I needed some rage and truth-sharing. I needed Alexis Goble’s brilliant note at the end of the episode.

I hope you’ll give it a listen and, if you do, that it feeds your soul a little.

#Resist

Story Sale: “El Cantar de la Reina Bruja”

New sale–and not the one I teased in my post last week!

I’m delighted that my fantasy story “El Cantar de la Reina Bruja” will appear in the battle poet anthology Sword & Sonnet. (Click the link; the artwork is phenomenal!)

I’m as excited to read this as I am to be a contributor! I owe a huge thanks to the friends that read and critiqued this before I sent it out and everyone who attended my reading at Boskone and offered kind words (it was out on submission by then).

Expect more details as everything comes together, but the anthology will be available in print and digital later this year.

August Writing Round-Up

Hey, guess what. That book I’ve been writing for almost three years? Yeah that one? Yeah I finished it. (Somewhere in the peanut gallery, someone shouts, “Again?!” To which I reply: “ITSTHEFOURTHDRAFTTHISISWRITINGHUSH.”)

It has been a highly consistent month of writing–I was either revising or writing all but four days this month–and it shows. The novel revision is done. The novella revision is so close. I got a new story out this month. And though the wins never come quite often enough to beat the brain weasels back entirely, I’ve been reminded again and again that friends and family help beat back the rest. The successes this month, the ending on a high note: that’s because I put the work in and because when it didn’t make enough of a difference I had good people there to remind me that I put the work in. So if you were one of those people, thank you.

  • Words Written: 4,281  (YTD: 116,508 | 2017 Goal: 200,000+) Concerned that this bullet has been low for months? Yeah, me too, but that’s only because I’ve been revising and bumbling about with flash. Just wait till I start the next novel.
  • Works Complete: 1 (YTD: 8 | 2017 Goal: 10)
  • Submissions to Paying Markets: 6 (YTD: 58)
  • Books Read: 3 (YTD: 16 | 2017 Goal: 30)
  • PLUS
    • My story “The Moon, the Sun, and the Truth” over at Shimmer has gotten some great reviews (links on my bibliography page!)
    • 7 rejections this month, with 2 gut-wrenching, celebrate-the-honorable-loss personals
    • This is big so I need to say it again: I FINISHED REVISING THE BOTANZIER!
    • I started revising my friendly-contest-among-pros-winning novella and it’s…really guys, it’s good. I can’t wait to share it.
    • Still fundraising read a bit more here.
    • Days I’ve written/revised this month: 27/31 (Does another victory lap)
    • Days written since the inauguration: 150/222
    • Longest streak: 31 days (SO CLOSE)

So what’s on the docket for next month? Botanizer-related stuff that I’ll share in one big post (or maybe a series) at some point; sending out the novella to a few sensitivity and beta readers; and starting the next big project. I’ll keep you posted!

Story Published! “The Moon, the Sun, and the Truth” in SHIMMER #38

Isn’t this beautiful? Weird, wonderful, strange, and awesome? Well it’s the cover 800px_july2017for Shimmer Number 38, and my story–“The Moon, the Sun, and the Truth”–is one of four stories in its digital pages.

I am really proud of this particular story for many reasons. It gets at the heart of some of my political anxieties. It was one of the first flash pieces I’ve attempted–and then got longer upon revision. It appears in a magazine that I absolutely love and respect. And it’s just…well fun for me in many ways.

You can read the story now, today, this very minute by purchasing the issue or a subscription. If you do this, you’ll also get to read a short interview by each of the authors in the issue. Shimmer does release its stories online over the course of two months so you can read my story in August if you prefer to go that route. The choice is yours.

I’d also like to shout-out to TOC-mate Andrea Corbin, a fellow member of the Boston Speculative Writing Group (BSpec!) and an all around awesome person. I’m honored to share a cover with your name and our fellow 38ers 🙂

I can’t wait to hear what you guys think!

Story Sale: Phalium arium ssp. anams

I’m very excited to announce that my flash story “Phalium arium ssp. anams” sold to Cast of Wonders, the excellent YA fiction podcast!

Phalium artwork

I wrote this one after the Viable Paradise reunion in October and must again thank Leigh Wallace/Leigh Five for her excellent illustration, shown here, as well as all who offered feedback on the story when it was done. Your encouragement meant a lot!

One thing quite important to the story of this sale is its main character: I named her after my grandmother-in-law who passed just last week. I will be forever grateful that I read it to her myself. Another character is named for both her husband and my mother’s uncle, both of whom had passed long before I’d written the story. By doing this, I feel as though I had a chance to memorialize two long-lived, deeply loving Irish-American couples in one fell swoop, and I hope that both families smile when they get to listen and read.

I don’t yet know when this one will air, but you bet I’ll make sure you know about it.

And Gram and Grampa Flynn, Aunt Shirley, and Uncle Mike: if you get internet access in heaven, know we love you.

Story Sale: “The Moon, the Sun, and the Truth”

You may have heard this before because I shouted it from rooftops when I signed the contract, but I have enough details that it deserves a short post. ‘The Moon, the Sun, and the Truth” will appear in Shimmer‘s Issue 38, which releases in July 2017!

I started writing this story in a friend’s hotel room mid-Arisia 2017 as part of the Codex Weekend Warrior flash contest. After comments came through, it was clear the story needed more space. I gave it another pass or two, and it shaped up into something worthy of the badgery-shimmery-goodness of this amazing magazine. It’s roots are lodged in what I saw as a notable moment in journalism, but the story is set in a wilder sort of West than once was.

I could not be more proud or excited! Can’t wait to share it with you this summer!