Review: TRAIL OF LIGHTNING by Rebecca Roanhorse

36373298-_sr1200630_Publisher: Saga Press
Page Count: 287
Release Date: June 26th, 2018

When I chose TRAIL OF LIGHTNING as my next read, I was looking for something “easy.” I had just finished two dense 500+ page fantasy tomes, and wanted a quick read, something fun. At just shy of 300 pages and boasting a female monster hunter, TRAIL looked like it would fit the bill. What I did not expect was a quick fun read that also packed an emotional punch and deftly painted a world that I was hungry to explore.

TRAIL OF LIGHTNING is set a couple decades in the future, when much of the world has been destroyed by cataclysmic flooding referred to as the Big Water. Deciding they didn’t want to deal with what was left of the world, the Navajo people raised a circular wall around their reservation lands, cutting themselves off – but also keeping some things in.  With the apocalypse has come a rise in monsters and the awakening of “clan powers” among certain Navajo people.  One such person is Maggie Hoskie, whose gifts of speed and blood lust have set her on a path of monster hunting.  Recent events have driven her to be a recluse, but when a family begs her to rescue their stolen daughter, she reluctantly agrees to help – and discovers the monster in question is the tip of a much larger iceberg of evil.

What impressed me most about this book is how quickly it established the look and feel of the world.  Small details like referring to a shower as a luxury because of water rationing, or how some technology has fallen by the wayside due to lack of power helps establish this desert wasteland. Roanhorse has a flair for ambiance and I was immediately “in” the land of the Dinétah faster than I’m in the lands of some epic fantasies.  The magic itself is wonderful in the way it ties into the heritage of its characters – a person may manifest two powers, one for each parent’s clan, the power itself based on the clan’s name.

This book was also elevated by Maggie and her personal journey.  When we first meet her, Maggie has been abandoned by her mentor Neizghání, an immortal, perfect man, slayer of monsters. Maggie idolizes him, so when he tells her that the powers that give her a penchant for killing are corrupting her and then leaves without warning, she is devastated.  When she’s pulled from her self-imposed exile to rescue a child, she still can’t help feeling like she’s on the brink of giving in to darkness that she is certain lurks inside herself.  As Maggie investigates the new monsters appearing on the reservation, and bonds with self-declared hunting partner Kai, she comes to realize how she was emotionally abused by her mentor, and re-examines her powers.  This journey is tied into Maggie’s physical battles, giving them an emotional weight I was not expecting.  When reading TRAIL OF LIGHTNING, I found myself doing something I don’t do often: turning back pages and re-reading passages to let those moments fully sink in.  I did find the ending slightly confusing in its motivation, but not enough to mar my overall experience with the book.

If I have one complaint about TRAIL OF LIGHTNING, it’s that I wanted more.  While Roanhorse does an excellent job of giving you enough of the setting for the story, I found myself wondering about some details, such as if medicine men had powers before the Big Water, or how long Neizghání had been alive as an immortal.  These are not critical to the story and are questions for the lore at large.  The author has left plenty of world to explore, and I look forward to seeing things fleshed out in future books. For those looking for a kick-ass tale with a journey of self-discovery and creative magic, this is an enjoyable tale you will be happy you checked out.

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