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Black Sun


Black Sun

Rebecca Roanhorse’s BLACK SUN opens her pre-Columbian-inspired fantasy trilogy, Between Earth and Sky, with an immersive, innovative, unputdownable adventure. Epic in scope and intimate in its telling, this is a must-read for lovers of lush, literary fantasy.

The Day of Convergence is coming, the day when stars and planets align. This is the moment Serapio was made for. Once a boy from Obregi, Serapio is now a vessel, trained for a destiny from which he cannot turn away. With the power of the Crow God within him, he will avenge his people. He travels to Tova onboard a ship captained by Xiala, a bawdy, fierce, kindhearted Teek. The Teek are stigmatized for their powers, but Xiala discovers that she has even deeper powers than she realizes --- and she will need them before journey’s end.

Within Tova, the Sun Priesthood does not know of Serapio’s journey, or his intent. But Sun Priest Naranpa has enough to worry about. As she is descended from the clan-less Dry Earth, not everyone in Tova thinks she has the right to her title, and she survives several attacks on her life. She is saved by her tsiyo and former lover, Iktan, but while she has always trusted xir, she can tell xe is hiding something. The danger and intrigue intensify when the Carrion Crow matron is found murdered, and Naranpa comes into contact with her battle-trained son, Okoa.

"BLACK SUN is a vibrant, vicious novel. It sings off the page with adventure and destiny, prophecy and revolution. It was just the sort of inviting escape I needed."

The four discrepant characters --- Serapio, Xiala, Naranpa and Okoa --- cross paths as the Convergence nears, to complex and sometimes devastating effect.

This is one of my favorite fantasies of the year. Intricate and inspired by a rich history, it is also wholly original and rendered in such an accessible, compulsively readable way. Roanhorse’s writing is propulsive and lush, and makes the worldbuilding so inviting. Each main character is compelling in their own right, wrestling with moral ambiguity, the intricacies of their histories and the choices they have to make as the world shifts beneath their feet. This is an epic, brimming with far-reaching political intrigue, celestial prophecy and divine retribution made flesh, and its telling is strengthened for its root within these genuine, flawed, fascinating characters.

BLACK SUN will certainly appeal to fans of George R. R. Martin, Andrzej Sapkowski and N. K. Jemisin, but it’s also inviting to new readers of fantasy, or those who can’t seem to get invested in a big, intimidating series. The narrative moves through time, but in a readably near-linear fashion, all building to the Convergence. Though it alternates between perspectives, there are only four, and each is clearly distinctive, the roles they have to play in each other’s stories coming to the fore early on. Lovers of the genre will revel in the beautifully crafted world, the morally complex character work, the compelling build of romance, the sharply wielded scenes of violence and of magic. And while I do love some popular, blockbuster fantasy adventure stories, I felt safe in BLACK SUN in ways that I rarely do in other works.

This is an Indigenous, pre-Columbian narrative, and I love how it considers power, politics and identity in a world untouched by Columbus’ imperialism. There are multiple queer and trans characters who get to live in a universe without the homophobia and transphobia that came along with colonization. One of the main characters is disabled, and though I can’t speak to the representation of blindness with any authority, my initial impression was that it reads better rendered than some other popular portrayals of disability in this genre. Roanhorse mentions in her ending notes that she has done her research. There is no sexual assault, unlike many popular epic fantasies, or gratuitous violence whatsoever --- just well-placed, well-wielded brutality that’s purposeful for the story, making it an all the more impactful and far less traumatizing read.

BLACK SUN is a vibrant, vicious novel. It sings off the page with adventure and destiny, prophecy and revolution. It was just the sort of inviting escape I needed. This is a stunner, and I eagerly anticipate the next novel in the series.

Reviewed by Maya Gittelman on October 16, 2020

Black Sun
by Rebecca Roanhorse