In concrete action, Rebecca Roanhorse’s Storm of Locusts begins similarly to its Hugo- and Nebula-nominated predecessor Trail of Lighting: with a knock on the door of her trailer that draws Maggie Hoskie out of her sulk and into the larger world. Hastiin and his Thirsty Boys show up with a precocious niece in tow and entreat Maggie to lend her monster-hunting clan powers to their posse. After some grumbling and dissembling, she acquiesces to the quest: the Dinétah Tribal Council has put a bounty on a cult leader known as White Locust, who may or may not have clan powers of his own. But Maggie is hardly the woman she was last time that knock came.
Spoilers for Trail of Lightning follow.
It’s been about a month since the events at Black Mesa that closed Trail of Lightning, and the mutual betrayals between she and Kai—Coyote and Niezghání—still smart. While Maggie is in many ways still pretty low, she’s not as low as she was before her last bloody adventure. Her relationship with Kai has changed her, even if he’s been scarce on the ground since. It’s funny to watch her grudgingly admit to herself that she likes Hastiin, even if he’s a an obvious blowhard, and insincere to boot. Or maybe insincere isn’t quite the right word—clearly under his bluster and blarney, he genuinely wants her to like his teenage grand-niece Ben, who has clan powers of her own. (Clan powers tend to be activated by severe trauma, which tells us a lot about what Ben has seen and experienced in her short life.)
Maggie’s recent growth into actual functioning personhood makes it all the more terrible when everything about her latest mission goes wrong. She still cuts the same brusque and unsentimental figure as ever, but she’s been trying to rein in the inevitable bloodlust of her clan powers: no killing, even if she really, really wants to. When she’s once again put in a position to end a life, or have Ben do it, the dilemma is genuinely wrenching. What remains of their party makes it back to Maggie’s trailer, beaten and demoralized. After a short recuperation, the Goodacre twins, Clive and Clarissa, deliver the second knock on her door in so many days. They have bad news, grudgingly imparted: the love of Maggie’s life, the medicine man Kai, and their younger brother, Caleb, are missing. Worse: Kai seems to be mixed up in something bad.
As it happens, Maggie’s quest to find Kai ends up dovetailing into her mission to find the White Locust, a mysterious figure whose infamy only grows as they encounter his influence and magic. Maggie is one of the Diné, living in Dinétah (which was once the Navajo reservation). Though little has changed within the almost magical walls of the once-reservation, much has changed outside them: Big Water came and drowned the land; Denver is on a coastline; the Appalachians are an archipelago; California is underwater. Her quest to find Kai drives her out of the relative safety of Dinétah and out into the drowned world, and it is not a pretty place, and there are not pretty people within it. It’s a hard road she must walk, and there is no security in the end.
Maggie has come far from when we first met her, closed up in her grief and betrayal, beholden to nobody, and with nobody beholden to her. While she still struggles with magical powers that make murder sing in her blood, she’s also still working on her uneasy relationships with other people: the elders (in their own way) Hastiin and Tah; the emotionally fragile, adolescent Ben, who nonetheless wields enormous power; standoffish Rissa, who blames Kai, and therefore Maggie, for her brother’s abduction; and Rissa’s brother Clive, the peacemaker. Their travel out of Dinétah is scarier than monsters, and the monsters she encounters are frightening enough. (She’s beset, at one point, by a man-shaped creature made up of a thousand chittering locust bodies; when her sword cuts through it, the monster reforms anew: Reader, I screamed.)
In the second book of The Sixth World series, Maggie’s travel is both emotional and geographical, cutting out of the safety of the known into the hard country beyond.