I first came across Rebecca Roanhorse when reading the anthology book A Phoenix First Must Burn, and was really impressed with her short story collected there. Later I saw that she’d contributed to the ongoing new Star Wars canon with Star Wars: Resistance Reborn, and thought she did great work within that universe. So when I saw that she had a new trilogy of books coming out, partly inspired by and based upon the Pre-Columbian Americas, I knew that this was going to be a project that interested me; and I wasn’t wrong, as Black Sun was an absolute joy to read.
The story follows a handful of characters in the weeks building up to the winter solstice, and the solar eclipse that will take place at the same time. There’s Naranpa, the Sun Priest in the city of Tova; a woman who has worked her way up from the bottom of society, both literally and figuratively, to become one of the four high priests of their society. During the build up to the winter solstice Naranpa has to deal with the machinations of the other priests, and discovers that there is a secret plot to try and remove her from power, by violent means if necessary.
Heading into Tova during this difficult time is also Xiala, a ship captain with mysterious magical abilities, who has been hired by a wealthy merchant to transport a very special cargo, making sure that it arrives at Tova before the eclipse. This cargo is another of our lead characters, Serapio, a blind young man, covered in ritualistic scars. But, there’s a lot more to Serapio than there first appears, and his arrival at Tova will mean not only the fulfilling of his destiny, but could change the world as we know it.
The three lead characters of Black Sun are a great collection of people, all of them outsiders in their own ways, all of them seen as different and undesirable by those around them, and all of them thrust into important roles in this story. The narrative will shift between the three of them, and a fourth character who plays a smaller role, and we’re provided with unique perspectives because of this, with each of them having very different outlooks on the world. Naranpa and Serapio are two of the most interesting, as their positions and the journeys that they are on should put them both at odds with each other, but Roanhorse never makes one of the other the hero or the villain, and its easy to identify with and agree with characters who should in theory be enemies.
Roanhorse manages to walk this line wonderfully throughout the narrative, and you find your opinions on characters and ideas shifting a lot during the course of the book. People that you thought were nice will end up looking like villains, and some people who are set up to look pretty bad early on are revealed to be more victims of circumstance who are demonised simply for having the will to survive. The narrative and the way you see the world of Black Sun feels so real because of this, and the book seems more grounded in reality because of its complex moral nature, despite the fact that it deals with magic and gods.
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There’s also been a lot of love and attention given to the world beyond the characters, and the various locations we visit over the course of the book feel varied and different, yet still feel like part of the same world. Roanhorse has managed to craft a world with variety and wonder, but never goes to extremes that could draw you out of the narrative, and even when the amazing or wondrous happened I never felt like it didn’t fit. Even without the main narrative this is such a well crafted universe that you’d still want to read about it, to learn about the various peoples, their homes, and their histories.
The only downside to the book is that because this is the first part of a trilogy I came to the end and desperately wanted to jump straight into the next one – but instead I have to wait for the second book to come out! Other than that, there wasn’t a single moment where I wasn’t enthralled by the journey, enchanted by the world, or falling in love with the characters. Black Sun is the start of a series that I know is going to do well, one that will win over a lot people, so make sure that you’re not one of the ones who misses out.
Black Sun is out on 21st January from Rebellion Publishing.