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.
Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel to the rez to unravel clues from ancient legends, trade favors with tricksters, and battle dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology.
As Maggie discovers the truth behind the disappearances, she will have to confront her past—if she wants to survive.
Welcome to the Sixth World.
Trigger Warning: death, graphic violence, severe body violence but not rape, PTSD
But I had forgotten that the Diné had already suffered their apocalypse over a century before. This wasn’t our end. This was our rebirth.
Roanhorse writes a brilliant post-apocalyptic story reaching beyond the walls of what stories can do. She awakens us to indigenous ideas and the darkness of this world and straight into a world simmering, waiting for revolution, fighting decolonization. In this world, decolonization does not happen without a fight.
Open this book and you will suddenly find yourself crushing on Maggie Hoskie, a seemingly damaged heroine. Her heart is set on deathly things, knives, really bad jokes, and a cherry red Chevy. Maggie Hoskie is introduced to us when she is on the hunt for a monster. Roanhorse, through Maggie, asks “is Maggie also one of these girls?” Can she save herself and her people? Can she heal and survive the monsters and the trauma she’s experienced?
Characters dealing with trauma and violence are frequently summarized as having teenage rage. There’s a lot of unfounded criticism of Maggie. I can’t fathom how Maggie can be seen as angsty or ragey. She’s trying to escape her feelings. My experience is solely from a privileged white settler. I found myself seeing and understanding the reality of her PTSD from a distance. I could see why she built a wall to protect herself.
In Trail of Lightning, Maggie is called shí daughter by Tah, an elderly medicine man. He helps her identify a monster she killed. With her family dead, he becomes a friend to her, someone she can trust and someone she can love. She has no grandmother to teach her about life. He, effectively, becomes someone to fill that hole. He may not be related to her, but he can be there for her.
At the start of the book, she feels lost after her mentor, Neizgháni, abandons her. Maggie is Honágháahnii, born for K’aahanáanii. Neizgháni is very critical of her and he’s also very suggestive that her powers are what makes her evil, She internalizes everything he says, as anyone would. The Diné stories became real when the Big Water envelops the world into what the Diné call the Sixth World. This catastrophe makes the monsters and heroes of Diné stories reawakened.
And I am left alone to hunt the monsters by myself, both the visible kind that steal away little girls to eat their flesh, and the invisible kind that live under the skin, eating at the little girl from inside.
I want to see that dark part of her journey so I can watch her destroy that wall and build this new world into beauty. Maybe I can join her.
After experiencing violence trauma awakened her clan powers. In the same way a victim would experience the world differently, her powers act as as a burden and a new sense of overwhelming reality. When Kai comes into her life, she sees a friendship. They develop something of kindness instead of toxic behavior. He is kindness where Neizgháni is cruelty. He shows her men can be soft, beautiful, and understanding. Roanhorse writes ideas of what masculinity can or should be. When Kai invites the idea of a one night stand, she says no and expects him to freeze her out. He doesn’t. He shows her understanding and respect. When he realizes she’s triggered by touch, he gives her space and slowly allows her to tell him when she’s ready to be touched. Kai is at a place Maggie is not. Maggie is coming out of an toxic relationship. She can’t fully love herself let alone him. Roanhorse shows toxic relationships and a healthy relationship to decolonize this dark world. It is seemless.
Roanhorse decolonizes ideas of masculinity through Clive Goodacre. The Goodacres live on the reservation and own a bar/other nefarious things . In him, we get a gay black man.
“Because what, I can’t like guns and glamour at the same time? They’re not mutually exclusive, you know.”
He is a tough boy unashamed of soft feminine things. A black man in an indigenous centric novel can also be part of this story. Roanhorse makes her world more complex than all the rest.
She breaks our assumptions that decolonization can’t happen in an apocalyptic world. Roanhorse creates a world of warning. It is not meant to envision a haven but a warning of monsters and disasters. In this world, 2/3 of North America is flooded with what they call Big Water. Indigenous people fought to protect and save the land in the Energy Wars, like the Water Protectors at Standing Rock. In Roanhorse’s world, she tells of the greedy colonizers refusing to listen to Indigenous peoples. The Diné tribe built walls to protect themselves from the dangers colonizers threatened them with.
Roanhorse shows darkness so she can show healing in Maggie. When Kai tells Maggie,
“I can take care of myself,” he says, voice calm. “But I don’t need a gun to do it,”
The idea that every person in an apocalyptic world needs to use violence is pushed on. Roanhorse also suggests trauma puts Maggie in a place and in a world that forces Maggie to protect herself with weapons. Not to do so would perpetuate the idea that she needs to rise above those attacking her.
Colonialism touches every aspect of this novel. It’s in the romance novel with a stereotypical Plains native man kissing a white girl. We see it in the Urioste familia and their white daughter. Those in the tribe do not always make the right decisions for the Diné. These are complex human beings and sometimes make bad decisions.
Any criticisms I have are few. Not everything about the world building is clear, such as the Shalimar scene. I never got bored. The whole book is incredibly fast paced and never failed to interest me.