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With a Candle to Guide Me

Trail of Lightning  (Sixth World, volume 1)

By Rebecca Roanhorse 

12 Nov, 2019

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Trail of Lightning is the first book in Rebecca Roanhorse’s post-apocalyptic paranormal Sixth World series.

Maggie Hoskie is a supernaturally enhanced monster-hunter. She became so as a consequence of a near-death encounter as a girl. Another way to look at her is that she’s a marginally domesticated monster whose utility to her Diné people is slightly higher than the risk of allowing her to live among them. True so far. 

When children are stolen away by monsters, Maggie is the logical person to ask for help. That’s not to say she’s always successful…

Her latest hunt ended with a dead monster and a dead girl. The monster is clearly a made-thing, not someone transformed. Determining who created the beast and why is her next task. 

Maggie does not want a partner; but Kai Arviso offers to help her. She’s not inclined to trust him. He’s far too well-groomed and good-looking. But he does have skills that compliment Maggie’s and she reluctantly accepts his assistance. 

Maggie is also approached by Coyote, the trickster god. Could Maggie do a little errand for him? This could be a trick or a trap, but saying no to Coyote is as risky as saying yes….


Standard prophylactic child decapitation” warning. Also standard the lifeboat is full” warning. This book uses lots of genre tropes, tropes familiar from other post-apocalypse novels (indigenous and POC versions). There’s even a Trump-style wall that divides Maggie’s world into the lucky and the doomed. It’s just that in this version, the people that Robert Heinlein or a Ward Moore might have chosen to be inside the wall, closing the shelter to scruffy refugees, are the ones on the wrong side of the barrier. Turnabout is fair play.

This is a post-peak-oil, post-climate change, post-geological disaster, post-what may well have been a wrath-of-the-gods sort of apocalypse. The last part means that the rate and amount of sea level rise was not inhibited by the actual amount of ice available to melt [1] so half of the continental US is under water. Call it 200 meters of sea level rise?

On the plus side, none of North America’s super-volcanoes have erupted, possibly because that would kill the Navajo and some of the gods are Navajo-friendly. Other groups are not so fortunate; later North American governments will find the census a far less time-consuming process. 

Like a lot of modern-day paranormal fantasy, the Sixth World is a stone’s throw from the corner of Tough Detective and Urban Noir. I can imagine Maggie chasing down bail jumpers, not dealing with monsters and would-be heroes. In this book she does have to deal with crooked cops (some stuff is universal). The supernatural elements here mean the stakes are even higher than they would be for some gumshoe who only needs to fret about getting capped by some dame they followed down an alleyway. In this world, souls may be at stake. 

Having read the series out of order, I can assure readers that starting with book two won’t leave them hopelessly confused. Roanhorse follows a mystery genre tradition in which each book can function as a standalone. They’re not unsatisfactory slices of a larger narrative arc. Hurrah for Roanhorse! She has clearly picked the superior option. That said, it’s often better to start with book one of a series if that’s an option.

This book did not overwhelm me, but others have liked it fine. 

Trail of Lightning is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), and here (Chapters-Indigo).

1: Refusing to engage in hard-SF calculations of what might possibly go wrong didn’t stop Stephen Baxter from writing post-apocalyptic novels featuring dubious quantities of sea level rise. Nor Edgar Pangborn. Nor Syd Logsdon.