Black Sun, Rebecca Roanhorse – Book Review

Hello Humans! December Judith here again speaking to you from the past where I just finished Black Sun – which I’ve been wanting to read for bloomin’ ages! It was a Space Sirens Book Club pick earlier in 2020 and I was delighted to (after that bookclub had moved on) get a digital review copy for the UK release in January! All I knew going in was that this was inspired by the civilizations of the Pre-Columbian Americas and that the opening chapters needed a content warning for some squicky stuff to do with eyes – thankyou for the heads up friends, I needed it.

Goodreads Summary:

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.

Crafted with unforgettable characters, Rebecca Roanhorse has created an epic adventure exploring the decadence of power amidst the weight of history and the struggle of individuals swimming against the confines of society and their broken pasts in the most original series debut of the decade.

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I genuinely wasn’t sure what to expect of this book and I think that’s maybe why it felt a little slow to start for me – as with a lot of fantasy I suspect that has more to do with the sheer amount of worldbuilding necessary to set up a world of this kind of scale with so many moving parts. This is also a setting that hasn’t as yet been explored a huge amount in fantasy fiction so things can’t be taken as read as much as they can be in ‘it’s pretend Europe’ books. So despite that slightly slow beginning I really fell head first into this book, it’s got some really great moments and I would definitely recommend it.

We follow various characters throughout this story. My general rule on multiple POV fiction is I will either love every single character and whizz through the book or there will be one character who I enjoy and I will power through everyone else in order to get to their part of the story again. Neither approach is better than the other but in this case it was the latter. Is anyone surprised I loved ship captain Xiala? Anyone? No. While I thought the plotlines of the other characters were very good and I liked the story in the book overall I would quite happily have read another 3000 pages of Xiala being awesome.

This is one of those books that sweeps you along through the plot at a pace – once it has got going – which is good. I like a story that is moving towards a clearly defined point, in this case the solar eclipse, because it helps to keep all the different threads moving towards the same destination and it also helps to anchor the reader in the story despite jumping about from character to character. I thought that Roanhorse handled the different aspects of the story leading up to this point really well, as a reader I never felt totally adrift in the story and – bonus points for me – I never forgot who was who!

This is a wonderful setting and I am excited to see it develop more as more books in the Between Earth and Sky series develops. I know very little about the Pre-Columbine Americas beyond what I might have picked up in an episode of Horrible Histories so this felt very new to me, and while this is obviously a fantasy and not a historical book designed to educate and be 100% accurate it does include some really great jumping off points for those wanting to learn more, and poses some good discussion questions. If we’re dismantling the idea that colonisation was good (which I am so here for, please dismantle this) this book is a significant part of that. I liked that this book included characters using neo pronouns, I liked the exploration of matriarchy and diplomacy – it is fresh and new while also drawing on some real-world ideas that maybe haven’t been explored as widely in fantasy before.

I’d definitely recommend this book if you’re a fantasy reader, while you may need to hold your breath through the first chapter and a chapter towards the end if you are a bit squeamish. I am very excited to see what comes next and I also need to go back and read all of Rebecca Roanhorse’s backlist….

My rating: 4/5 stars

I received a free digital review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley – all opinions are my own.

Black Sun Publishes January 21st!

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What say you? Have you read this? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

J

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