Trail of Lightning
May 27, 2019 1:42 PM - by Rebecca Roanhorse - Subscribe

While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters. Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last—and best—hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much larger and more terrifying than anything she could imagine.
posted by dinty_moore (11 comments total)
ok, SO. I wanted to like this so fuckin bad, but I could not get fifty pages in. The worldbuilding is super cool, but I could not, could not deal with the prose. Everything was painstakingly described and explained and it just felt ...I don't know. Maybe I've read too much earlier SF, where stuff is only vaguely described, but it made me all irrationally annoyed at both Maggie and the author. (I am also not super into Maggie's whole Lone Wolf who is Too Dark for Community thing, so.)

I'm super curious if anyone else got this impression -- and especially if someone can assure me that it starts slow but improves massively? I truly would like to like this book, it feels like the spiritual successor to a lot of Mercedes Lackey's urban fantasty stuff that I basically grew up on.
posted by kalimac at 6:42 PM on May 27, 2019

(forgot to post the link to the previous Metafilter post in the description)

Of special note is this article: Trail of Lightning is an appropriation of Diné cultural beliefs.

I'd bounced off of this the first time I tried to read it, too - it reminded me of a lot of 90's urban fantasy in the prose, the exposition, and the grimdark Lone Wolf protagonist. In the past few years, I've found myself a lot more interested in stories about people learning to work together in a community, or radical empathy (stuff like Steven Universe, Russian Doll, The Good Place, ect), so it just seemed like it was Not My Thing.

I did listen to the audiobook version of it, and I think the narration helped me get more into it.

This is also the most heterosexual thing I've read in a while. Not just because both Maggie and Kai are attracted to each other, but this is a universe where everyone sees a fancy looking dude and a tough looking woman and thinks that they have to be into each other. And it's not an issue that the tough looking woman and the stylish looking man are straight - I'm not advocating for an adherence to stereotypes, but an option besides heterosexuality never seems to cross anyone's mind. Maggie's reaction to the one gay character also seems awfully dated.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:41 PM on May 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

Maybe I've read too much earlier SF, where stuff is only vaguely described,

Vaguely? You must have read different SF than me, because overexplaining is an old, old trait of SF. There's a reason "As you know Bob," is a cliche.
posted by happyroach at 11:19 PM on May 27, 2019

happyroach -- hah! I mean, you're not wrong. But with this (and I think a lot of 90's fantasy) there's a lot of "And this is my [thingy] and I carry it for this reason and it looks like this [75 word description] and here is everything I am feeling except I do not have feelings because grimdark". I like a little internal mystery, or the option to imagine things for myself. As you Know Bob seems to mostly just cover motivations and in-world lore, at least...

(Yeah yeah, Asimov doesn't give us internal motivations because his characters have no internal life, still :P )

In conclusion, blargh. dinty_moore, thanks for your thoughts -- this definitely is something I would not enjoy, and now I have bonus side-eyeing the author. Similar to you, I'm far, far more interested in stories of community and working together; weirdly enough this lead me to bounce hard off of A House for Mr. Biswas, which I was assured was an hilarious classic. I'm also kind of bored by the whole Entirely Straight Always thing too. Time to look elsewhere for Native authors writing SF/Fantasy.
posted by kalimac at 7:21 AM on May 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

Time to look elsewhere for Native authors writing SF/Fantasy.

I do have to say that I enjoyed "Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience" - a short story by Roanhorse that came out a few years back. It's part of the reason why I gave Trail of Lightning a try in the first place.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:30 AM on May 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

Oh, yeah! I read that too, and also enjoyed it! Uh, hearty seconded recommendation to anyone reading this thread and curious!
posted by kalimac at 7:40 AM on May 28, 2019

Oh hey my book club just did this.

The repeated description of the character Kai as being handsome became a running gag during our conversation.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:34 PM on May 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

I read this recently and really enjoyed it. Felt like a really solid urban fantasy story to me, and I really liked Maggie as a character.

I also read the appropriation article, and another previously and think it is something I've never really considered, because to me, although parts of this may be based on a religion and culture it is quite clearly a fanatsy novel. And therefore I'm not at all about to think that it gives an accurate representation of Diné culture. Just as I don't believe any Celtic-based fantasy as being an accurate representation of celtic people (whether the celts existed at all of course), but at the same time I understand parts of being uneasy at seeing your culture displayed by someone who is not part of it. Obviously I don't understand it all, so can't get all the nuance, so am a little uncertain at how to feel about the whole discourse.
posted by Fence at 12:34 PM on June 16, 2019

I think it's important to note a few more things about the controversy - people were treating it as if it's a #ownvoices book (you can see that in the previous metafilter thread), which, well, it's not really. And we're talking about the depiction of concepts and rituals that are held as sacred by living people, and a living people that historically have not had control over how their beliefs are portrayed. And yeah, fiction is one of the few places where people are likely to see anything anything like Navajo culture portrayed - Roanhorse herself realized it was important to try to get it right, which is why she consulted with people from within the culture. The closest metaphor I can think of (and it's an imperfect one) is if someone who was Welsh was writing a Celtic urban fantasy and the author had the characters speak a language they called Irish but kind of fucked it up.

But like, it's not like indigenous or even Navajo people have been a monolith on this (because, of course they aren't). There's been a lot of talk - you can see it on the goodreads reviews - about how important this book has been for individuals who do feel represented. I also have a lot of sympathy for nonwestern/POC authors arguing that the requirements for authenticity in Nonwestern-fantasy settings is so much higher than it is for writing a ye olde ren faire book, and how that acts as a form of gatekeeping.

Shit's complex, I'm not going to tell you how to feel about it.
posted by dinty_moore at 10:27 AM on June 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

I read this and the sequel back to back a few weeks ago. I thought they were a lot of fun, but didn't take them seriously as any kind of accurate depiction of Diné beliefs (much like Fence's point about Celtic fantasy.) Then I read the articles about Roanhorse's cultural appropriation, and because of that the books have left a bad taste in my mouth. If Navajo people find the books insulting, well that's fucked up and Roanhorse should have been more careful, imo. I doubt I'll read the third book when it comes out because of it.
posted by homunculus at 2:40 PM on June 18, 2019

> There's been a lot of talk - you can see it on the goodreads reviews - about how important this book has been for individuals who do feel represented.

I hadn't seen that. I'll check it out, thanks for the heads up.
posted by homunculus at 2:42 PM on June 18, 2019

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