First sentence: Today he would become a god. His mother had told him so.
Synopsis: The novel starts with a pitch perfect chapter describing the ceremonial blinding and carving of young Serapio by his mother. A strong and harsh impression which begins Serapio’s education and heroic journey for becoming the raven god “Odo Sedoh“. The short chapters are centered around the upcoming eclipse, the eponymous “Black Sun”, when the Sun god whose priests rule the world are the weakest and the raven might eat it up. In fact, that genius cover resembles those central topics just perfectly.
The novel jumps back and forth in time between the perspectives of three main protagonists: Serapio, Sun Priest Naranpa, and captain Xiala.
Serapio is brought up as a vessel for the raven god who shall bring vengeance for his clan, the Carrion Crows, which were decimated by the ruling Sun Priests in a genocide Night of the Knives.
Xiala is a Teek woman, a folk deeply connected to the sea, with a magical power to Sing which allows them to influence both the sea and people. She is a charismatic captain who is pressed into the task to ship Serapio to the main city Tova just in time for the eclipse.
Naranpa origins in the poverty of Tova’s slum district “Dry Earth” rising to the highest authority, the Sun Priest who resembles everything the Carrion Crows hate. But Naranpa isn’t a villain, she struggles to reform her order and stay relevant in the city and the world.
Xiala’s and Serapio’s journey over the sea faces dangers and time pressure. Naranpa is opposed by assassins and mysteries in her own order.
Review: This book is unputdownable, keeping me on my toes. After the first chapter I could only think “wow, this must be the best intro I’ve read for a long while”. The plot rolls with utter force towards the inevitable showdown where the forces of Serapio and the Sun Priests will unfold. As the first part in a new series, the ending is both satisfying and cliffhanger enough to long for the next volume.
All three main protagonists are well developed and authentic, though they don’t unfold their motivations and background from page one. It is a character-driven story, and some of the tension comes from carving out their stories.
Most appealing to me was the non-European setting. Roanhorse borrowed much from Inka and Maya cultures, their traditions, animalistic gods, technology, and cultures and created a fascinating secondary world from it. It isn’t too often that you see an exotic but well-elaborated setting like that. Given Roanhorse’s background, her advocacy of this native background is authentic and legitimate.
Add to that the treatment of LGBTQIA: Xiala’s folk, the Teek, don’t have men. In the first volume, this culture isn’t investigated much, and I hope for more in the next book. There’s also the leader of the Sun Priests’ assassins, former lover of Naranpa who is a non-binary character addressed as “xe/xeir”. Their expression of gender isn’t a primary element of the story, there is nothing heavy-handed in their involvement but fits naturally into the setting.
This novel has been nominated for this year’s Nebula Award season (check out the list with references to online available stories and my reviews), and I absolutely second the choice.
Recommended for readers of High Fantasy who like tragic heros, politics in cities, and several forms of magic with a lot of mythology. Don’t forget to breathe while reading it!
Meta: isbn 1534437673. Published at 13.10.2020 by Gallery / Saga Press. Nominated for the Nebula Award.