Trail of Lightning was preordered around two months in advance and I would have waited triple that amount for this book if I had to. It’s steeped in Native American (namely Navajo) mythology, badassery, and lots and lots of violence. If you’re sensitive to graphic, gritty details, this book is not for you.
It was rather early on that I knew this book was going to be amazing.
And by early, I meant page two:
But I’m no hero. I’m more of a last resort, a scorched-earth policy. I’m the person you hire when the heroes have already come home in body bags.
Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter. She’s been trained by a literal immortal, a “man” who became her mentor after an unspeakable tragedy. It’s been nine months since he left her and Maggie is every sense a broken woman. It also complicates matters that she was totally in love with him.
Maggie has some difficult internalization. She believes she’s a monster; her clan powers are triggered by violence and bloodlust, turning her into a killing machine. We’ve seen this a lot when it comes to romance heroes, where they think they’re horrible because of past deeds and unworthy of love. Personally, I want more tortured, prickly heroines, please. More Maggies!
In the opening of the book, she takes a job and discovers a monster she’s never encountered before. That’s never a good sign. She brings the head of the slain monster to a local medicine man and surrogate father figure named Tah. This is where we meet Kai Arviso, Tah’s grandson, who is a beautiful, loving, cinnamon roll. He has some knowledge about this monster and from there, the scene is set.
An angry heroine and a man, who is a very charming healer, are off on an adventure!
That’s the basis for the book. Fill in the rest with trickster gods, cataclysmic histories, and more viscera than you can shake a stick at. It’s a whole lot of fun.
While the reading experience was an enjoyable rollercoaster of roundhouse kicks to everyone’s faces, I also learned something about myself. Something not particularly nice. I made a racist move and had inadvertently othered the characters and their language.
A lot of the vocabulary in the book, specifically about mythical figures and legends, is Diné. I was irritated when I read the first of many Diné words and realized there was no glossary in the back, nor definitions or list of terms I should be familiar with.
Then I realized I was being a colossal asshole because this was not a language made up for the purpose of world building. This was an actual language people used. If I had read French or Spanish in a book, I wouldn’t expect a glossary. I would use context clues or take it upon myself to do some Googling. I had expected the writing and the narrative to make it easy for me.
But this is also what I love about reading. It can put things in perspective, teach me things about myself and about things that exist outside of my privilege or bubble. It was humbling.
The characters were so lovely, and despite all the violence, I loved the growth between Maggie and Kai. Maggie has lost many loved ones and feels that the way she is scared away the only man she ever loved, an immortal no less. If you can frighten away an immortal, what does that say about you?
But Kai fights for Maggie’s trust and her friendship. Aside from all the ass-kicking, this was my favorite aspect of the book. I guarantee you’re going to fall in love with Kai.
It’s also interesting to see the way other people in the book react to Maggie. Some fear her, others openly hate her, and there are a couple who aren’t quite sure what to think. The book is written in first person, which I normally shy away from, but I liked being in Maggie’s head as she fills in the gaps of her history with people and places.
Second to Kai, in terms of favorite “secondary” characters is Grace. She’s a Black woman who runs a refuge and bar called the All American with her kids, in a sort of no man’s land.
Seriously, everyone is so great! Well…not everyone. There are bad guys. But because Roanhorse’s writing is so detailed, it’s hard not to want to know every little characteristic when a new person is introduced. I hope those who are still living by the end of Trail of Lightning will get more page time in the next book because I’m nosy and I need to know ALL THE THINGS!
As in many urban fantasy series, the first book can be a struggle as the would building and cast of recurring characters are established. I would say Trail of Lightning is no different. While there aren’t info dumps, per se, there is some whiplash when it comes to details about geography, organizations, and the like. I don’t think I fully understand how the world got to the way it is (mostly underwater and struggling for resources), but I suspect the origin story of the Big Water fiasco and Energy Wars will unfold in future books.
My biggest gripe with the book is the conflict. Normally, with urban fantasy, there’s an overall conflict – a big bad – and some smaller ones going on. The smaller issues are usually resolved within one book while propelling the main conflict forward. I didn’t get that here.
Get ready for a video game comparison.
Think of Trail of Lightning as a role-playing game. Typically, there’s a main quest line for your character and bonus side quests. The side quests don’t really affect the outcome of the game, but tend to add a deeper level of characterization and lore. A majority of the book felt like side quest after side quest. When Trail of Lightning ended, what I thought was the main quest all along…wasn’t. It felt like a bit of a bait and switch.
Though the book doesn’t necessarily end on a cliffhanger, there are still some unresolved relationships. However, there was no zombie hand bursting through a grave to signal that all is not what it seems and that some scary shit is on the horizon. I didn’t get an indication of who or what Maggie was going after next. Who is the ultimate baddie here? Who is her Thanos?! Her immortal lover who is a hottie, but clearly isn’t right for her? I’m so pleased to have spent my time with this book; I wished it were longer. However, the next installment, Storm of Locusts, just had an amazing cover reveal and comes out the day after my birthday on April 19.
If you love the Kate Daniels or Mercy Thompson series, you’re going to want to read about Maggie immediately. Just expect a lot more gore.
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