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Overall, Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse is one of my favorite books that I’ve read this year.

 

Black sunWhat is it About?

The first book in the Between Earth and Sky trilogy, inspired by the civilizations of the Pre-Columbian Americas and woven into a tale of celestial prophecies, political intrigue, and forbidden magic.

A god will return
When the earth and sky converge
Under the black sun

In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world.

Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain.

My Thoughts

There’s so much to love about Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse. In the confines of this book, you’ll find nuanced characters, a unique setting, beautiful prose, well-written romance, strong LGBT representation, and a captivating story. Roanhorse is a prolific and highly touted author with Hugo, Locus, and Nebula awards to her name, but to my knowledge, this is her first foray into writing a high fantasy novel. Her inaugural voyage into this subgenre is a hugely successful effort—one that I’m overjoyed that I have had the opportunity to read.

Perhaps the most attention-grabbing hook to this novel is that Roanhorse eschews the conventional high fantasy setting of pseudo-medieval Europe in favor of a world inspired by pre-Columbian America. This alone makes Black Sun a breath of fresh air for longtime fantasy readers who are ready to take a step outside of the familiar. The societal structures and aesthetic that are presented in this novel make for a distinctive reading experience that transports me into an entirely different world—one that lends itself extremely well to fantasy storytelling. This strong worldbuilding is only enhanced by the implementation of epigraphs which provide in-world idioms, excerpts from documents, and other inclusions that lend a verisimilitude to the setting.

Black Sun’s worldbuilding is far from the only aspect that makes it stick out. The characters transcend familiar archetypes and each provide their own voice and perspective on the world around them colored by their own place in society and past experiences. There are four point of view (POV) characters, but the two that I found most compelling were Xiala and Serapio. Xiala is a sea-captain that belongs to a people known as the “Teek” who is living among outsiders. The Teek are an isolated society with magical powers that enable them to control the waters. For this ability, they are feared and discriminated against by those who are not a part of their society (and occasionally beloved when Teek powers serve to benefit them). Xiala’s cynical but justified perspective on the world provides her with a realistic-feeling and intriguing voice. Serapio is an individual who has been preordained to host the rebirth of a long-dead god known as the Crow God. From childhood, he must discern his role in a world where his own personal desires are so subsidiary to his inexorable destiny that his very humanity is in question. His journey through this process is fascinating. Serapio is blinded as a child within the first ten pages, so Roanhorse walks delicate ground regarding his depiction. From what I’ve gathered, she put in a tremendous amount of effort toward properly representing his experience, and though I can’t personally speak to how well she accomplished the portrayal of a blind character, I give her a lot of credit for doing her due diligence.

The two characters described above and their relationship with each other form the cornerstone of Black Sun’s reading experience for me. The remaining two POV characters are well-written, too, and in another book, I might have gravitated more toward them than I did in this one—they were just overshadowed by my two favorites. Naranpa, a figurehead known as the Sun Priest in the city of Tova, provides the reader with a perspective inside the court intrigue and complex politics taking place in her city. She comes from humble beginnings, and she must grapple with her identity, given the contrast between her upbringing and current powerful position. Meanwhile, those around her are unwilling to let her forget where she came from, and the tension throughout her chapters kept my attention and interest. Okoa, the son of a leader of the Carrion Crow Clan, is probably the character with the least depth to this point, but this seems largely attributable to the fact that he has by far the least “screen time” of any of the POV characters.

The plot is consistently engaging; although, it does seem to take a backseat to the characters in this one. One of my favorite elements about the story is that it all revolves around the ticking time bomb that is the countdown to a timepoint known as the “convergence. Each chapter begins by denoting how far away it is from the convergence. Roanhorse weaves back and forth between timepoints, which is always a potentially jarring storytelling device. I think she accomplishes this well, but there were instances where I found it disrupted the flow and had me wishing we could continue the present story. It is perhaps the pacing of the novel that I feel most critical about regarding Black Sun. The climax and conclusion arrive abruptly and seem to happen in a blink of an eye compared to the more methodical, patient pace of the beginning and middle of the book. It leaves us with a cliffhanger, and I do have a personal preference for first books in a series that tell a complete story. When a Book One in a series would also work as a standalone, it is a huge plus for me. Black Sun felt as though it might not be completely satisfying to read without intentions of continuing the story. I did feel this critique was worth noting, but it wasn’t a terrible problem for me, as I do plan on reading the recently released sequel, Fevered Star.

Overall, Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse is one of my favorite books that I’ve read this year.
It has so much to offer as a reading experience that transports you to another world entirely, and I’d gladly recommend to speculative fiction readers. In particular, I believe fans of NK Jemisin’s highly acclaimed Broken Earth trilogy would find this novel to be exactly their cup of tea. And I mean that to be the high praise that comes with comparing this book to a series that won a triple crown worth of Hugos. I’m excited to see more from Roanhorse, both regarding this series in particular and her continued work in speculative fiction at large.

Read Black Sun

Review – Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

Dylan Marsh

Dylan Marsh

like to talk, read, and write. I talk with my lifelong friend, Charles, on the Friends Talking Fantasy Podcast. I discuss fantasy content on social media quite a bit too. I read a lot of speculative fiction—mostly fantasy novels. I write for Before We Go Blog. I’m also a graduate student in a Counseling Psychology Ph.D. Program. I write a lot for that as well. Most of that writing focuses on research I conduct on sense of calling and the experience of meaningfulness; I’m an author on several peer-reviewed scientific journal articles on these topics. I also like playing tennis. Where to Find Me Personal Twitter: @DylanRMarsh Friends Talking Fantasy Podcast Accounts Twitter: @TheFTFPodcast1 Instagram: @TheFTFPodcast Facebook: @TheFTFPodcast

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