Rebecca Roanhorse wanted to read a fantasy novel in which the heroes and gods were of North American Indigenous origin, but she couldn’t find one—so she decided to write it. Today, the New Mexico resident, Yale grad, and Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation workshop alum joins us to answer five questions about the work that resulted, Trail of Lightning, which is coming out from Saga Press this summer adorned with a fantastic cover by artist Tommy Arnold—which we’re also going to show you right now.
Find the Q&A, the front cover, and the full wraparound hardcover image below the official summary, and prepare yourself to experience a different kind of American fantasy story.
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 best hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much more terrifying than anything she could imagine.
Welcome to the Sixth World.
What’s your elevator pitch for Trail of Lightning?
The elevator pitch was an “Indigenous Mad Max: Fury Road.” I think that really captures the pacing and the sensibility of the book. This is an all-out breakneck apocalyptic adventure with a primary cast of Navajo characters, and it takes place wholly on the Navajo reservation.
What about it made it a story you knew you needed to write?
You don’t see a lot of Native Americans in science fiction & fantasy, and when you do they are usually not situated in a world that is specifically Native, like the Navajo reservation. I wanted to read a science fiction and fantasy story where Native characters held front and center, where the landscape was filled with the places and the people that I knew from living on the rez, where the gods and heroes were of North American Indigenous origin. I also wanted to see what a Native author might do with a world like that. But I didn’t really see that happening, so I took Toni Morrison’s advice to write the book I wanted to read, and the result was Trail of Lightning.
How does the image on the cover compare to your own conception of the characters?
Tommy Arnold, the cover artist, worked with the Saga Art Director Nick Sciacca and my wonderful editor Joe Monti to pull off a brilliant cover. I love it. As far as the characters go, I knew that I didn’t want any of the typical trappings non-Natives associate with Native Americans. No feathers, no braids (Navajos don’t traditionally braid their hair, anyway), nothing pseudo-mystical. If anything, I wanted a more of a rock n’ roll vibe—which is why, if you look closely at Kai (the character in the truck) he’s wearing an AC/DC shirt. It was even more important to me that the characters be recognizably Navajo, which is one of the reasons Maggie is wearing Ké Ntsaaí, which are traditional Navajo women’s moccasins. I think they go great with her leather jacket and her big knife.
What makes Maggie Hoskie stand out as a fantasy protagonist?
She’s fierce, she’s angry and she makes some alarmingly questionable decisions. When she says she’s a one-woman scorched earth policy, it’s best to believe her. But, she’s also a survivor who is incredibly, and perhaps tragically, human. I love that about her. I don’t know if I want her to be my BFF, but I definitely want her on my side.
What are your plans for further stories in this setting?
The next book in The Sixth World series, Storm of Locusts, will be out in 2019. In that book, the reader will get to experience some of the wider world as we explore what’s left of Northern Arizona in a post-apocalyptic road trip down Route 66. Some of your old favorites from Trail of Lightning will make an appearance, but Maggie will also meet newborn casino gods and fanatical cult leaders with a thing for flesh-eating insects. She’ll also get to drive a sweet 1950 Mercury.