After a sudden climate apocalypse, one of the only places left intact was Dinétah, a former Navajo reservation that has become a land where gods and supernatural heroes walk among humans. Preternaturally deadly monster hunter Maggie Hoskie is one of the byproducts of the supernatural rebirth of Dinétah. When her search for a missing girl and her monstrous captor goes south, Maggie is left with questions. Who created the monster that abducted the girl, and why? Maggie’s investigation leads her to reluctantly team up with Kai Arviso, an overly charismatic young medicine man with powers of his own. The further they dig to find the truth behind the monster, the more Maggie is forced to recognize that confronting her past may be the key to solving the mystery.
Trail of Lightning, the first in the Sixth World series by debut novelist Rebecca Roanhorse, is one of those books that grabs you by the hand and makes you listen. What separates it from other monster hunter books isn’t its plot. The basic plot arc could belong to almost any book within the genre. Its characters are typical of the monster hunter genre too: not always likeable, but always loveable. Its setting is remarkable, wonderful and strange, but so too are those of many other books. What then, is it that makes Trail of Lightning an unforgettable read? Even as some of the novel follows predictable patterns, so much of it is unexpected, turning what could be a straightforward plot into something both entertaining and thoughtful.
The best example of Roanhorse’s ability to take the standard and make it unexpected is in how she sets up conflict, particularly psychological conflict. Yes, Trail of Lightning is about a monster hunt. And yes, the fight scenes will make you hold your breath and sit on the edge of your chair. What sets the conflict apart, however, is how Roanhorse takes an action-heavy premise and makes it character-driven. On the surface, Maggie is exactly what we would expect from a monster hunter: dry, trigger happy and no-nonsense. But beneath that facade is a lot of trauma. Maggie has been taught by her former mentor to be ashamed and afraid of her gift, that it somehow makes her evil. She’s constantly questioning whether her power is turning her into the very kind of monster she’s been trained to hunt. This question dogs her at every movement, threatening to swallow her whole. In some books, this sort of constant introspection can be grating or even boring, usually because the angst it brings does nothing for the plot or characters. In Trail of Lightning, it’s what drives the plot, and it’s what makes its main character achingly human, a necessary feature for a book where the monstrous bleeds into the mundane.
Trail of Lightning has set a new standard for speculative fiction. Roanhorse has dazzled with this first installment into the Sixth World series, introducing readers to a world that will leave them eager to learn what else lies within the walls of Dinétah—and outside of them. The only downside is that we have to wait to learn what happens next.