I was delighted by Rebecca Roanhorse's first book in her Sixth World series, "Trail of Lightning". It was original, exciting, vividly told and finally gave Urban Fantasy a First Nation voice. "Trail Of Lightning" left me hungry for more so I pre-ordered the second book, "Storm Of Locusts". I devoured it when it arrived and was very happy to find that Rebecca Roanhorse has achieved something rare, a second book in a series that is better than the first.
"Storm Of locusts" takes place four weeks after the violence at Black Mesa at end of "Trail Of Lightning", where Maggie Hoskie reluctantly earned herself the title "God Slayer" and became estranged from her friend and ally, Kai Arviso.
Maggie isn't given much time to grieve, The Thirsty Boys turn up on the first page and enlist Maggie in fight that will bring her head to head with The Swarm, a new Locust cult, and take her outside the borders of the Dinétah into the post-apocalyptic chaos of the land of the Big Water where the white men struggle to survive.
The plot moves so fast that, by the time I was a quarter of the way through I already I had one unexpected death, one interesting new character, tension between all the old characters and a really spooky, creepy, don't-let-that-thing-get-in-my-hair kind of baddy.
As with "Trail Of Lightning", "Storm Of Locusts" is told in skillfully executed first person present tense style that is the perfect platform for the rapid action of the plot and for displaying Maggie's brusque, don't-mess-with-me attitude combined with the guilty exaltation she feels when she has the chance to kill and the joy she hopes for but doesn't quite feel worthy of. The opening paragraphs of the book are a good example of the writing style:
"Four men with guns stand in my yard.
It’s just past seven in the morning, and in other places in Dinétah, in other people’s yards, men and women are breaking theirfast with their families. Husbands grumble half-heartedly about the heat already starting to drag down the December morning. Mothers remind children of the newest Tribal Council winter water rations before sending them out to feed the sheep. Relatives make plans to get together over the coming Keshmish holiday.
But these four men aren’t here to complain about the weather or to make holiday plans. They certainly aren’t here for the pleasure of my company. They’ve comebecause they want me to kill something.
Only it’s my day off, so this better be good."
One of my few criticisms of "Trail Of Lightning" was that the plot was fairly simple and there were times when it wandered a little. "Storm Of Locusts" has a rich plot which Rebecca Roanhorse has completely under control. The pace is perfect. The action is continuous and spectacular but it's always used to drive the development of the character and the relationships between them.
In "Trail Of Lightning" it was Maggie, with some support from Kai, against the world. In "Storm Of Locusts" we have Maggie leading a group of fighters with the core being the trio of women on the dramatic book cover: Maggie, the fierce and vengeful Risa Goodacre and Ben, an eager teenager who has just come into her clan powers as a tracker. These three storm across the Big Water lands, encountering enemies and Gods (sometimes in the same person) and leaving destruction behind them as they chase The Swarm.
One of the things that sets the Sixth World series apart for me is that the attitudes towards death and violence and good and evil are not the ones I normally find in Urban Fantasy. The Sixth World is harder, less forgiving and less unambiguous than most Urban Fantasy. The violence is frequent, vivid and entirely functional - you kill for a reason and you do it as fast as you can. The Gods are neither good nor evil, they're just Gods doing what Gods do. There are definitely evil people in book, men who make their living off the pain and death of others, but there are no people who are entirely good. To survive in this world means getting your hands bloody from time to time.
As with the last book, there is a strong sense of place in "Storm Of Locusts". I've been to the spot where the final conflict takes place and Rebecca Roanhorse captures its scale perfectly. Part of the book is set in the Amangiri Resort and Spa and I loved that it became quite a different place when I saw it through Maggie's Dinétah eyes:
"The Amangiri Resort and Spa is bigger than it seemed from Aaron’s brochure. And colder. Not in temperature, although the desert has dipped to freezing with the sun down, but in architecture. All the buildings are built along sharp angles, the materials not adobe or even wood, but cold concrete. The place has none of the curves of the earth, nothing that speaks of Dinétah, of wooden hogans or warmth. It is entirely foreign. A place made by bilagáanas, for bilagáanas. That is a truth I feel deep in my bones. Bones that plead for me to turn around, that I don’t belong here, that this place has no love for a child of Dinétah."
I'm completely hooked on this series now. I've heard good things of Tanis Parenteau's narration of the audiobook version of this series, both of which are out now, so I've bought a copy to use as are-read in preparation for reading the third book next year.