Trail of Lightning was Rebecca Roanhorse’s debut novel released in 2018. It won the Locus Award for Best First Novel that year and must have caught someone’s eye because she is now writing in the Star Wars universe, her latest book being Resistance Reborn – a prequel to the final Skywalker film. Trail of Lightning is a long way from Star Wars – it is a futuristic fantasy based on Navajo (Diné) mythology and set in a future world called “The Sixth World” (our current age being the Fifth).
Maggie Hoskie is a monster hunter. She has been trained by Neizghání, a supernatural being himself, to hunt down and kill the monsters that stalk her world. She has been in hiding since Neizghání’s disappearance but the kidnapping of a young girl by a monstrous figure brings her out of retirement. This is part of a more insidious series of events and soon Maggie is drawn in to finding out who is behind the monster attacks. She is paired with a young man called Kai, who has healing powers, but before long the two are on the run from local law enforcement and called on to do a job by the Navajo trickster spirit Coyote. This is just the start of their problems.
The world that Maggie inhabits is the traditional Navajo lands, surrounded now by a massive wall that keeps out the waters that have drowned most of the rest of the United States and the world. The coming of the Big Water heralded the start of the Sixth World and was accompanied by the return of Navajo gods and spirits and the ability of Maggie and her fellow tribespeople to access powers inherent in different clans. Maggie’s powers, which she bridles against and fights to keep down, make her both fast and lethal. They give her a bloodlust that makes her deadly to monsters but also dangerous around anyone who threatens her.
I can not say often enough how refreshing it is to read myth-based fantasy that draws from something other than the Western tradition (cf Shadows of the Short Days). The tale itself feels like it meanders with side quests and missions but these effectively flesh out Maggie’s world and are, in the end, all critical pieces of the puzzle and all provide clues to the finale. There is plenty of Navajo lore and terminology throughout the book, most of which is explained sufficiently to appreciate the story, as for the rest, the best advice is to go with the flow. This was an assured debut that invited further exploration of the Sixth World (and a sequel Storm of Locusts did come out in 2019 and is just as good).