"But I'm no hero. I'm more of a last resort, a scorched-earth policy..."
December 17, 2018 8:47 AM   Subscribe

The elevator pitch was “an Indigenous Mad Max: Fury Road”. It’s a story that takes place in a post-apocalyptic world after cataclysmic climate chance where one of the few places still intact, and doing pretty well, is the Navajo reservation, now called by its ancestral name, Dinétah. Within Dinétah the gods and heroes of Navajo legend walk the land again, but so do the monsters, and it’s up to our protagonist, Maggie Hoskie, to take on those monsters, both physical and metaphorical. Rebecca Roanhorse on her debut novel, Trail of Lightning, a breathtaking Native American urban fantasy adventure where "Indigenous culture and characters don’t take a backseat to white protagonists" (Andrew Liptak, The Verge).

Navajo legends come to life in Rebecca Roanhorse's debut novel 'Trail of Lightning' (Kerry Lengel, Arizona Republic)
Even in the apocalypse, there are winners and losers. And in “Trail of Lightning,” the debut novel by the Nebula Award-winning sci-fi writer Rebecca Roanhorse, the end of the world as we know it comes with a silver lining for people of the Navajo reservation.

Ancient magic is alive again, allowing the people to establish a reborn nation called Dinétah, from the Navajos’ own name for themselves, the Diné.

On the minus side, among the primordial legends brought to life are flesh-eating monsters out of Navajo nightmares.
Roanhorse says she was inspired both by the urban fantasy of writers such as Ilona Andrews as well as the concept of “indigenous futurism,” coined 15 years ago by Portland State University professor Grace Dillon.

She also has a more personal inspiration. Born of Ohkay Owingeh (Pueblo) and African-American heritage, Roanhorse was adopted by an Anglo family and grew up in Texas. As an adult, she reunited with her indigenous birth mother in New Mexico and began to immerse herself in the culture. She picked up a law degree at the University of New Mexico and ended up marrying a Navajo man.

“I’ve been very lucky and very honored that so many Navajo folks have invited me into their families and shared with me, but I don’t presume to speak for the culture,” Roanhorse says. “I’m a fantasy writer, and this was the culture that I wanted to set my world in, because I love this culture. It’s something that I wanted to share and something that really spoke to me.”
Rebecca Roanhorse on Which Aspects of Diné Culture Are Featured in Trail of Lightning (Tor)
When the cover for Rebecca Roanhorses debut novel Trail of Lightning was first revealed, the Nebula Award-winning author emphasized how she hadnt wanted Dinétah monster hunter Maggie Hoskie to be depicted in the typical trappings non-Natives associate with Native Americans such as feathers or braids. Yet she still wanted Maggie to be recognizably Navajo, which is why she wears traditional Navajo womens moccasins alongside her leather jacket and knife.

A similar discussion came out of Roanhorses recent Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) on r/fantasy, in which the author of the award-winning short story Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™ (previously, twice) explained which aspects of Diné culture she incorporated as Easter eggs, and which were off-limits. It makes for fascinating insights into an already engaging novel that kicks off a new rural fantasy series.
Trail of Lightning on Goodreads; you can read the first chapter as an official excerpt from Simon and Schuster or Amazon, as well as preview and search through it on Google Books.
posted by filthy light thief (36 comments total) 70 users marked this as a favorite
Read it. Excellent book! Highly recommended.
posted by JohnFromGR at 8:53 AM on December 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

So thrilled to see this in the blue!
Been singing its praises since tearing through it based on Victor LaValle's rec and CANNOT WAIT for book 2. This book gets so much right — it's breathtaking and a hella fun ride.
Great post, Thief!
posted by the_royal_we at 8:56 AM on December 17, 2018

This sounds great, thanks, and I just put it on hold at the library. I'm down for pretty much anything where the premise is "a(n) __________ Mad Max: Fury Road".
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:58 AM on December 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

In the hold queue just behind The Card Cheat. Can't wait to read this.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:02 AM on December 17, 2018

Thanks for this. I've just put this book on hold at my library, as it sounds really interesting. Apparently other people also thought so -- the waitlist is over 3 months long, unfortunately.

I recently read another indigenous post-apocalyptic novel -- this one written by a Wasauksing man, Waubgeshig Rice, called Moon of the Crusted Snow. It's a bit short -- I would have liked to see some things that are hinted at in the plot fleshed out more -- but it was certainly well worth reading.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:04 AM on December 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

*smashes the “Reserve now” button at the library before even opening any of the links* This sounds amazing, thank you. I’m #75 on 12 copies, so maybe I’ll just buy it. Off to read the actual articles!
posted by skycrashesdown at 9:05 AM on December 17, 2018

Is it a stand alone story? I'm not about to start another sci-fi series that isn't finished no matter how appealing it seems.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:05 AM on December 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

I devoured this book when I got it. It's my next suggestion for the feminist spec fic book club I attend.
posted by carrioncomfort at 9:05 AM on December 17, 2018

More authors to follow, from Tor: Five Indigenous Speculative Fiction Authors* You Should Be Reading, from Rebecca Roanhorse herself (*two titles are anthologies)
  1. The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline
  2. Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones
  3. Robopocalyse by Daniel Wilson
  4. Love Beyond Body, Space and Time edited by Hope Nicholson
  5. Deer Woman: An Anthology edited Elizabeth Lapensée and Weshoyot Alvitre
posted by filthy light thief at 9:07 AM on December 17, 2018 [17 favorites]

Is it a stand alone story? I'm not about to start another sci-fi series that isn't finished no matter how appealing it seems.

First in a series, sorry (not sorry). The next book, Storm of Locusts, is due out in April 2019. Not sure how many books are planned in the series.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:10 AM on December 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

This sounds amazing, and I, too, have put it on hold at the library. Also seconding the recommendation for The Marrow Thieves, which is incredible.
posted by ITheCosmos at 9:14 AM on December 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

This is so great, gonna get this. And also Thanks @filthy light thief for that link as well. I'm so here for this.
posted by nikaspark at 9:21 AM on December 17, 2018

First in a series doesn't mean it isn't a stand alone story. Dune is a stand alone story even though there are many books that follow. I am interested in knowing whether this novel has a narrative arc that is completed by the end. Character arcs that span many books are wonderful, but so many great stories start and are never finished that it's sometimes worth waiting until the complete story is published rather than getting burned.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:28 AM on December 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

Just finished it a week ago. Amazing book. Bought a copy for my brother as well. Can't wait for the next one.
posted by Slinga at 9:33 AM on December 17, 2018

this sounds awesome! just shared with a friend into apocalyptic fiction.
posted by supermedusa at 9:41 AM on December 17, 2018

Ordered two copies, one to read and one to give. Thanks.
posted by ominous_paws at 9:45 AM on December 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

filthy light thief, violent power fantasies are the bread and butter of sff, from the Iliad through the Lensmen series through Starship Trooper through much of Zelazny through the vile excrescences of Jerry Pournelle and his ilk. Some of it them are the Iliad, some of them are Zelazny, who is plenty good enough for me, and many are vile excrescences. The thing is, once you have read power fantasies for 50 years, you get a little tired. After a while it's all the same old shoot-em-up and the same old rodeo. I recently flang the first Sandman Slim book across the room when I realized that the character was going to have his development carefully and systematically delayed till the author had sold enough fight scenes to pay off his mortgage.

I ordered the book. It is the only way to see. It might be the book I have been waiting for. Killing monsters as a form of fictional heroism that doesn't involve killing humans has a reputable history going right back to Beowulf. We will see.
posted by ckridge at 9:58 AM on December 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Kindle edition is only $3 ($3.99 in Canada)... made it an easy decision to buy!
posted by sevenyearlurk at 10:50 AM on December 17, 2018

If you can, please buy instead of borrowing from the library! Part of how we get more works like this is by showing publishing houses that Native authors sell.

Libraries base their own purchasing decisions in significant part on circulation.
posted by praemunire at 11:04 AM on December 17, 2018 [6 favorites]

Correct - I just came here to say that I'm ordering a copy for my library and it appears the hardback version is backordered on Ingram.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:06 AM on December 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

My system has 13 copies, two more people have placed it on hold since I did this morning, and the more holds they get, the more they'll bring in. I put a hold on The Marrow Thieves at the same time and there are 93 books in the system with 160+ holds now. Or Madeline Miller's Circe has 250+ holds and they've brought in 83 copies to manage the demand. The graphic novel Sabrina has 71 copies and 200+ holds.

And I feel like, am I supposed to be shamed for using my library? I suspect people who can afford to buy books probably already know to do that? I'm just a little sensitive about this I guess, but seriously the alternative to the library for me is either piracy or simply not reading it.
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:15 AM on December 17, 2018 [11 favorites]

I got my copy from the library, and finished it the other day. I really liked the setting, although I thought the plot was a bit by-the-numbers for the genre. Still, enjoyable, and I will read the next one when it comes out.
posted by suelac at 11:18 AM on December 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Some cautionary notes from Debbie Reese at the blog American Indians in Children's Literature.

Also, my own content note for Trail of Lightning: Contains depictions of sexual, emotional, and mental abuse. The story had interesting features, but for now I'm feeling pretty hesitant about returning to the series.
posted by Weftage at 12:18 PM on December 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

I finished this book a couple of weeks ago. It's a violent post apocalyptic setting. Most characters in the book are Diné or from mythology.

I found it a good read, but I didn't analyze the cultural implications of what she wrote. I thought she wrote a good story. For a first novel, it's very very good.

I look forward to the next volume in the series.

OHenryPacey writes:
Is it a stand alone story? I'm not about to start another sci-fi series that isn't finished no matter how appealing it seems.

This novel is standalone, with clear implications for further adventures.
posted by blob at 12:53 PM on December 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

My library system has a few copies, as well as an ebook option. I just put it on hold. ( all copies are checked out, but this IS Oklahoma.) Reminds me of Robopocalypse and the notion that humankind’s best hope for survival is an "off-the-grid Osage stronghold where humans resisting the assault find sanctuary."

Kick ass. Spielberg is making the film.
posted by bradth27 at 12:59 PM on December 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

When I went to purchase this on Kindle just a moment ago, I was told that book 2 is due out in April and they're calling it a "two-book series". Can't speak to the accuracy of that; merely reporting the news.
posted by hanov3r at 1:24 PM on December 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thank you blob! I am buying a copy today!
posted by OHenryPacey at 1:44 PM on December 17, 2018

Some cautionary notes from Debbie Reese at the blog American Indians in Children's Literature.

For those who didn't click through -- the cautionary notes are that many Navajo consider this book to be cultural appropriation and to misrepresent and over-expose elements of their culture they prefer to keep private. Certainly they are enough to make me think twice about wanting to read it. It still sounds interesting, but if it's distressing to the people whose culture she is fictionally representing, then that's a significant concern.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:51 PM on December 17, 2018 [6 favorites]

Is it still urban fantasy when it's more like western folklore? I liked it, but between Roanhorse and Lila Bowen and maybe Gilman's Devil's West series it feels like a new sub-genre is forming or an old one is being revisited.
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:45 PM on December 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

smashes the “Reserve now” button

Ok that was awkward until I saw where you going with it.
posted by srboisvert at 7:44 PM on December 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Minor sidebar - library sales and rentals count! It's not like piracy!
posted by ominous_paws at 12:40 AM on December 18, 2018 [6 favorites]

When the movie comes out I'm getting the BIGGEST popcorn!
posted by Twang at 3:47 AM on December 18, 2018

"If you can, please buy instead of borrowing from the library! Part of how we get more works like this is by showing publishing houses that Native authors sell."

That just isn't how the system works. Libraries boost your sales - it isn't the other way around.
posted by bradth27 at 6:22 AM on December 18, 2018 [5 favorites]

Weftage's AICL link above is worth reading, as most definitely is this opinion piece linked from there: Trail of Lightning is an appropriation of Diné cultural beliefs. Like, this bit made me say "ohh shit" aloud to myself while reading, it's so mercilessly well-written and clear:

[M]any of our neighbor Pueblo communities safeguard their cultural stories and property vehemently. They have boards and committees that oversee publications of sensitive cultural materials and stories. We think of Dr. Alfonso Ortiz of the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, and how he was ostracized from his community after the release of his book The Tewa World: Space, Time, Being and Becoming in a Pueblo Society. It is hard not to wonder: Why did Roanhorse not take as subject of her science fiction novel her own Ohkay Owingeh culture? This would be her most natural subject and setting for her Native American sci-fi novel. Yet she did not. She chose to appropriate another culture. One reason is the sure, swift, and definitive response that would have come from her own tribe if she were to publish such a novel about that culture without their permission. The Navajo Nation does not have such a board or committee.

I'm not Native or Diné and don't know enough about the subjects or the cultures to see all the complex nuances here about cultural and religious appropriation and representation. I read Trail of Lightning in early fall and came away liking the main character but with some reservations about the book, largely the plot logic, the uneven romance(s), and the unexplored Fridge Horror context of some early scenes. But IIRC the portrayal of Diné religious/mythological figures in the book as character was largely as assholes, dead, or dead assholes. At the time I accepted this without question as unremarkable postapocalyptic fantasy grimdark. Looking back after reading some of this commentary, now I'm not sure. I intended to read book 2 in the series, in case book 1's shaky spots were just debut novel roughness; now I'm not sure of that either.
posted by nicebookrack at 1:54 PM on December 18, 2018 [7 favorites]

Is there any interest in a bookclub focused on Indigenous writers in FanFare?
posted by jacquilynne at 7:39 AM on January 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

I really enjoyed this while I was reading it - Roanhorse is a very good writer and alienated female protagonist is always my jam. I do wish I'd read this when I was 16 - I would've swooned with love for it.

In retrospect, a few days out from finishing the book, my opinion sours quite a bit, which I do regret. There's the issue of cultural appropriation, which I wondered about as soon as I read the blurb and saw that Roanhorse is not Diné. There's one character whose motivations were so inexplicable to me as to really mar my enjoyment of the last third of the book. Some of the post-apocolytic stuff doesn't seem well thought out.

And honestly, the protagonist's life in entirely filled with, shattered by, and determined by, men. The book probably technically passes the Bechdel test in a few places, but only if you ignore how much the other female character also talks to Maggie about the man she's working with.
posted by Squeak Attack at 1:37 PM on January 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

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