It’s Hugo season, and while there’s a full list of nominees here, the nominee that caught our eye has to be Rebecca Roanhorse’s Black Sun. This new fantasy series ain’t your granddaddy’s Beren-and-Luthien romances (and it occurs to me that there really are a lot of LOTR grandparents these days), a diverse array of cultures inspired by indigenous peoples from the Americas. The world built by Roanhorse is unlike anything else out there. The romance and the conflict Xiala faces defies the way we think about magic, gods, and the omnipresent interaction between the two.
Xiala has a hard time fitting in, so instead she captains a boat for a living and travels. She belongs to a race of seafaring, shapeshifting women, and she likes men and women both, which can be an issue depending on the port she’s in. She’s as hard-partying a sailor as ever took to water, but when a wealthy benefactor bails her out she can’t refuse his job offer to transport a mysterious blind man, Serapio, who has crows flying around him, to the city of Tova just before a major religious festival centered around a solar eclipse.
From antiquity, nothing has set off an adventure like a classic maritime voyage. The endless expanse of the ocean offers a mobility and independence challenged only by the possibility of flight itself. So, when Serapio steps aboard Xiala’s vessels, already these two abilities begins to react and contrast in interesting ways. Serapio turns out to be something of an avatar for a mystical god, and has the ability to see through, and control crows. Their mutual otherworldliness creates natural chemistry, too. However, Serapio’s religious mission keep tantalizingly at arm’s length.
Despite the tension in the plot, Tova proves to be the most elaborate piece of the puzzle. A subplot involving the intrigues of the court of priests here contrasts with the energy and adventure shared by Xiala and Serapio. The sedentary nature of court life trades off and on in narrative, and feels like it belongs in almost another book from the whirlwind travelogue the other characters experience.
Regardless, Black Sun takes readers through a beautiful ride. Xiala and Serapio are not only the dynamic dup, but a fuse simmering well into the next entry in this series. Easily my favorite to win the Hugo it’s nominated for, Best Novel.
Four out of five stars