Welcome to this week’s installment of Geek Girl Authority Indigenerd Wire, wherein we shine a spotlight on the indigenous people in pop culture. This column will feature the people, shows, movies, art and books that celebrate the progress of indigenous perspectives in mainstream pop culture.
DISCLAIMER: The following contains possible spoilers for Rebecca Roanhorse‘s Trail of Lightning and Storm of Locusts. If you are not caught up with the series, then you may not want to read on, but if you don’t care about spoilers either way, then continue!
“To be a Native of North America is to exist in a space where the past and the future mix in a delicate swirl of the here-and-now. We stand with one foot always in the darkness that ended our world, and the other in a hope for our future as Indigenous people. It is from this apocalyptic in-between that the Indigenous voices in speculative fiction speak.” – Rebecca Roanhorse, Postcards from the Apocalypse, Uncanny Magazine
Paving the Way
Rebecca Roanhorse, Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo and African-American burst onto the literary scene last year with her first novel, Trail of Lightning. It’s the first of four books in The Sixth World series. The story is set in the future, after an apocalyptic event that ended the Fifth World in Dinétah, the Navajo Nation, and started the Sixth World. Gods and monsters of legend come to life and some of the Diné have special abilities based on their clans. A great wall surrounds Dinétah, meant to keep the people safe and keep out anyone who isn’t Diné. But what happens if the Diné go outside the walls of Dinétah?
In Trail of Lightning, we meet Maggie Hoskie and her friend turned love interest, Kai Arviso. Together they try to uncover the mystery of new monsters in Dinétah. They have to deal with some unsavory gods who enjoy the mystery as if it were a movie. By the end, Maggie has to sacrifice her friendship with Kai to bury the Lightning God Neizghání. The twist is that Neizghání used to be Maggie’s teacher and first love. So in the end, Maggie goes home alone, having betrayed not one, but two lovers.
Storm of Locusts
Kai and Caleb Goodacre have been kidnapped just as rumors of a cult sweeping across the reservation leads Maggie and Hastiin to investigate an outpost, and what they find there will challenge everything they’ve come to know in this action-packed sequel to Trail of Lightning.
Storm of Locusts picks up a month later. Maggie is at home with Tah, Kai’s grandfather and together they wait for the medicine man to return to them. Like the first book, Storm of Locusts starts out with death and the addition of an unwanted companion. Maggie becomes guardian to Ben, a young orphan girl with tracking clan powers and quickly deer-like speed and agility.
The Goodacre twins return, asking for Maggie’s help finding their little brother Caleb. He left with Kai after a visit from a mysterious woman with wings. Turns out, the woman is a follower of a cult run by the White Locust and is there to recruit Kai. Caleb decided to tag along. Clarissa Goodacre fears the worst, while Clive hopes for the best. What happens next is a journey of self-discovery for Maggie.
No Longer a Loner
What stands out to me the most is the relations between Maggie and everyone in her life. When we first meet Maggie, she is a loner and quite content with not having to deal with people in general. Kai changed things for her, making her okay with one or two people to lean on. But then you remove Kai from the picture and Maggie is back to being a recluse. She goes on this journey with Clarissa and Ben, giving her the opportunity to make friends.
The story becomes less about Maggie breaking out of her shell and more about forming lasting bonds of friendship. She sees the benefit of having friends and finds that she cares more about their well being than her own. Maggie starts to become a part of a community, which is something she’s never had before. What’s interesting is how the story of White Locust shows Maggie who she could become without those relationships. Great character development for Maggie.
Taking the story out of Dinétah was a great move. Trail of Lightning introduces the dangers within Dinétah and Storm of Locusts shows us the dangers outside of the wall. It’s almost parallel to how Indigenous people are viewed both within our communities and in the bigger world outside. Maggie is as a powerful young woman within Dinétah. Outside, she’s just another girl…nothing special. It takes much more effort for Indigenous people to be seen and heard. That’s why we work so hard at everything we do.
The book also gives readers the perspective of how Indigenous people see the world. Climate change, greed, and need for control over the masses are just some of the issues that Indigenous people have fell victim to over hundreds of years. This is a common trope of dystopian novels that is a reality for a lot of people in the world. Roanhorse uses this trope to show readers what to expect if we continue on this path of destruction.
And then there are the gods. The gods are tricky and amusing. In most literature, they are a source of wisdom, but often time manipulate the outcome in their favor. The same can be said about the gods in Roanhorse’s story. I can never tell if they are helping out of kindness or self-gain. That part of the story is a mystery. The last chapter indicates that we will learn more about these gods and what it is they really want.
Roanhorse opened up a new world for Indigenous readers. It’s not common for writers to portray Indigenous people as people of the future. Roanhorse’s novels are unlike any fantasy novel that we’ve seen so far because of its Indigenous characters and mythology that connects the Diné history to the Diné future. That’s really the only thing that sets these characters apart from other novels. It is an untapped voice that is bursting to scream its story. And it’s about time we heard this voice. Overall, the story is relatable and fast-paced. Roanhorse leaves readers in anticipation of what will happen next.
Indigenous people have stories to tell. Many of these stories have never been heard by the mainstream population and some are influenced by the greatest stories of all time. Regardless of the inspiration, Roanhorse elevates Indigenous literature into a new realm with her series of books. I highly recommend you read Trail of Lightning and Storm of Locusts back to back. Both are available in stores and on audio.
A’he’heh! Thanks for reading.
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