Because I read a lot of older works in effort to catch up with my genre (I am, sadly, more poorly read than an author should be!), I find myself reading a lot about white people. Don’t get me wrong: I’m about as white as sour cream, and I do enjoy a lot of stories about white people, but I thought I should make a concerted effort to work beyond that comfort zone.
Trail of Lightning
Author: Rebecca Roanhorse
A long time ago, I read on Maggie Tiede’s book blog about a short story by Rebecca Roanhorse called “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience (TM).” I really enjoyed the short story, and I found it desperately creative. Maggie also mentioned that there was a book, Trail of Lightning, by the same author that would be published later in 2018. I looked at it, thought it seemed like Native American Supernatural, and requested it on some gift lists for Christmas. I did end up receiving it as a Christmas gift, and I am now very pleased to share my review with you.
When I enjoy a book’s writing style, as I do with almost anything Asimov and definitely with Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, I find myself delighting to read each sentence. I didn’t do that with this book. Written in first person present tense, it was difficult for me to get into.
Once I started and committed, I found that I didn’t like the main character: she whined a lot about her personal backstory, but then she wouldn’t tell you anything about it – even at the end, the backstory was implied rather than told, and I was never sure what I should be rooting for. Main-character Maggie felt flat, like one of those characters I’ve seen described on Tumblr. On Tumblr, a bunch of people complain that ‘your character’s not X enough’ or ‘I need to read a book where my character is X amount of psychologically broken’ without giving her more depth than that. Sure – I get that she’s psychologically broken, but I honestly don’t want to read a book about a character that starts out a quiet, unlikable badass who hates her life and ends up a quiet, unlikable badass who hates her life. I didn’t feel Maggie Hoskie to be dynamic, nor could I ever really get behind her.
Another weird thing? The book felt like it was diverse for the sake of being diverse. I was looking forward to a cool book with a new cultural backdrop, but the Navajo/Dine’e aspects didn’t really seem to add to the story. Some of the concepts were done with a Navajo name that was long and impossible to type because it didn’t use regular, Romanized characters – so I couldn’t even look them up easily to see if I was wrong.
“Oh, but H.R.R.,” you may say, “The book may have been written with Navajo/Dine’e readers as an audience.” Sure, I’ll give you that possibility, but that is almost worse to me. The world was post-apocalyptic, and almost all the white people had died in the Big Water event. The Dine’e survived because they built a big wall that kept all the white refugees out, but the main character claimed it “wasn’t like the old, American wall that failed” and that the Navajo wall was completely different. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think the border wall is a waste of money and pretty cruel in intention, but I must say that the author’s Navajo wall is built for the exact same reason as Trump wants to build his wall. The only difference is that it keeps out and hurts white people instead of brown people.
I felt incredibly uncomfortable especially with this scene, but also with much of how Roanhorse handled race throughout the book. I will give her some benefit of the doubt because her narrator could have been bad (i.e. a terrible example of an unreliable narrator), but it was extremely difficult to tell what was her literary message and what was the opinions of her narrator. When a world other than the one we live in must be introduced, we have no option other than to trust the narrator’s assessment as mostly true. This made the main character’s statements about race incredibly disconcerting to me, because it felt like you were supposed to believe that white people were inherently evil.
Anyway, the book just felt hypocritical. Is that weird? I don’t know. I almost hate admitting it in a review because it makes white-bread me look bad, but the book just felt like there was no factor redeeming enough for me to like it. I was really disappointed. Either way, I sure won’t be reading the next installment in the series.
*NOTE: This section was edited to soften some of the language.
This is going to be pretty short.
Like I said above, the main character – Maggie – kept complaining about her backstory. Up until nearly the end of the book, she continued this trend, and then finally we get to know that she did have sex with Neizghani (probably), and that it was an abusive relationship (probably). But none of it was clear, and it didn’t quite make sense to me. I feel like this is a massive shame, because as others (like Tom Darby) have pointed out, women on Indian reservations have it pretty rough. It could have been a great thing to point out.
Also, the twists fell flat to me. What I like in a twist is two things: 1) I don’t want to see it coming, at least not exactly, and 2) I want to be able to recall things from earlier that “make sense now” after the reveal. Neither of the big ‘twists’ in Trail of Lightning did that for me. One of them I saw coming from miles away and never understood why Maggie couldn’t see it. The other I thought didn’t have enough evidence left beforehand or even storyline tension to back up.
It just wasn’t a fun read.
Next week, I’m reading Andy Weir’s The Martian. Highly awarded and recommended, I hope this book lives up to its hype!