Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

“The monster has been here. I can smell him.”

That’s the first line from Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse. I’m Quinn Rose, and this is Recently Read.

I found Trail of Lightning in my favorite way to find new books when I don’t know what to read next: by scrolling through the Chicago Public Library’s website and following their recommendations until I read a blurb that sounds interesting. Trail of Lightning had been requested quite a few times, so by the time it arrived in my hands, I had completely forgotten what that blurb said. I dove straight into the novel and was not disappointed.

Trail of Lightning follows Maggie Hoskie, a young Dine, or Navajo, woman. The story starts sometime in the indeterminate near future, after Big Water flooded the coasts and rendered the United States into a post-apocalyptic society. Their border wall keeps the Dinetah safe from the outside world, but not from the monsters and gods that seek to destroy them from within. Maggie herself has clan powers that were awakened not the global tragedy, but the attack that targeted her own home. Now armed with supernatural abilities—and a lot of guns—she was taken under the wing of an actual god… until he abandoned her.

That’s where we join Maggie—powerful, broken, and hunting a monster again for the first time since her monster-hunting mentor left her behind. The plot moves as skillfully as the world-building as we learn about Maggie and the world our world has become. She meets Kai, a handsome young man with plenty of secrets of his own, and they are set on a mission by Coyote, a trickster god.

Now, a few of the twists and turns in Trail of Lightning were a little predictable, but the book more than makes up for it with its dynamic characters and fascinating setting. There are two essential elements that Roanhorse does exceptionally well: one, the world-building. I personally am not the biggest fan of apocalypse literature ever since it turned from “what if zombies appeared out of nowhere” to “here is a fictional but entirely possible outcome in the disaster our world is turning into.” If I’m looking for anxiety, I have the real world, I don’t really want it in my fiction right now. However, Trail of Lightning felt very different to me because it’s focused on that new world rather than what happened with the disaster. Roanhorse expertly weaves dystopia and mythology together in a way that feels completely fresh rather than rehashing the same environmental disaster apocalypse story we’ve already heard. The reveal of bits and pieces of what happened to our Earth and how this new society functions is fascinating every time and never falls into info-dumping.

The second standout feature is the character development. As Trail of Lightning goes on, Maggie delves deeper and deeper into the war pulling apart her home and the trauma that haunts her everyday. It’s a brilliant blend of supernatural monster fighting and the all-to-realistic pain of someone who’s experienced terrible things. Along the way of learning about this flawed by exceptional character, I came to care about everyone that Maggie cares about, and of course became ridiculously invested in her and Kai’s relationship.

I was horrified to learn that Trail of Lightning is the first and only currently published book in a trilogy. But the second book in The Sixth World trilogy, Storm of Locusts, is on sale this April. I can’t wait to pick it up, and I know that if you read Trail of Lightning, you’ll be right there in the library queue with me.

I’m Quinn Rose, and this has been Recently Read.