Rebecca Roanhorse crafts a unique fantasy tale in Trail of Lightning. The world she creates is in the near future, but has undergone some big physical and metaphysical changes.
Heroine Maggie Hoskie survives The Big Water (catastrophic flooding caused by climate change), only to be granted a mystical super-ability to kill. She lives on the former Navajo reservation, now known as Dinétah. It’s a massive walled area, with multiple towns and a varied Southwest U.S. landscape. The one thing everywhere has in common is the post-apocalyptic lack of resources, mostly water and food.
As the story begins, a young girl’s family asks Maggie to help them find her. They fear the worst, and that’s right in Maggie’s skill set. She tracks down monsters, and this time she finds a doozy. Solving the surrounding mystery of this creature leads Maggie to plenty of unexpected events.
In her young life, Maggie’s had two mentors. One is Tah, a respected medicine man. His grandson, Kai Arviso is in town, and Tah suggests Maggie take him along. Trouble is, she’s used to working alone. And Kai seems like oil to her water. But she gives in to Tah’s request and the two go after answers together.
Roanhorse creates an intriguing setting in this first of her Sixth World series. The land around Dinétah has changed as well, but the author focuses primarily on describing the changes to Maggie, her part of the world, and the people around her. Plus Roanhorse adds some supernatural beings, drawn from ancient legends. They certainly add a layer of mystique to the challenges Maggie and Kai face.
Maggie reminds me of a YA version of early Anita Blake, the vampire and monster hunter created by Laurell K. Hamilton. She’s a fighter through and through, but, like Anita, she struggles with her true nature. Unlike Anita’s approach to men, the connections between Maggie and the men in her life are relatively chaste. Since Roanhorse is writing for a YA audience, they’re definitely fraught with a variety of tensions.
There are things about Maggie that annoyed me. For example, Maggie wears leggings to do all of her fight scenes. Leggings? Really? Perhaps it’s the way Roanhorse shows the shortages in Dinétah. But a pair of jeans would provide some semblance of protection, even if Maggie can’t put her hands on leather.
Like a fairly typical young heroine, Maggie has a lot of angst, which tires me out. I’m always happier with action than dialogue about frustrations. Speaking of dialogue, Roanhorse doesn’t create strong conversational sequences. Many interactions between characters seemed stilted to me, which prevented me from slipping inside their skin as I read.
I might read further in this series, but I won’t guarantee it. Perhaps a younger reader would like it more, given that I know YA isn’t my favorite genre. But the premise of the Sixth World is interesting, so you never know.