Storm of Locusts (The Sixth World #2)
by Rebecca Roanhorse
First published April 23, 2019, by Saga Press
Monster-hunter Maggie Hoskie has had a rough time of it lately. Her last hunt went about as wrong as it could go, she had to betray someone she has known for years, and her only friend, Kai Arviso, has been avoiding her for the last four weeks thanks to all the horrible things that happened during that last hunt. But Maggie’s fortunes aren’t getting better. She becomes the guardian of a fourteen-year-old Diné girl with strange clan powers, and before Maggie can begin to get used to this, the Goodacre twins show up at her doorstep. They’re not Maggie’s biggest fans, but they need her help. Kai and their teenaged brother, Caleb, have disappeared, victims of a charismatic cult leader known to the Diné people as the legendary White Locust. But Rissa Goodacre suspects that Kai might have gone willingly. Though he left a warning for Maggie not to follow him, she is intent upon finding Kai and Caleb. Followed by the Goodacres and her new ward and joined on the road by dubious allies, Maggie and the others face a dark world outside the walls of the Diné lands and the possibility of death has never been higher.
Most urban fantasies set in the United States focus upon European figures and deities that have inexplicably wound up in Europe. Some authors, such as Neil Gaiman in his excellent, American Gods or Jim Butcher with his Dresden Files series have explained this phenomenon very well. Others have either been unwilling or unable to include Native American folklore in their urban fantasy novels. Part of this, I think, is the fear of representing these cultures poorly. As Native American lore is generally not taught in schools, students are largely ignorant of Native cultures and may not even think to try to learn about them as adults.
In her Sixth World novels, Rebecca Roanhorse delivers an new kind of post-apocalyptic urban fantasy series featuring stories, gods, and monsters from Navajo legends. In the Sixth World, much of the rest of the world has been devastated by war and climate collapse, but the Navajo people are protected by a giant wall called into place thanks to the resurgence of tribal magic. Clan powers– magical abilities that vary based upon individual clan attributes– have arisen, too, and they are what give Maggie the ability to hunt and kill the supernatural beings that prey upon her people.
The terminology will be unfamiliar to most readers, and the Diné words will be difficult, if not impossible, for them to pronounce. But Roanhorse subtly explains the terms and ideas without disrupting the flow of the story. She doesn’t spend paragraph after paragraph explaining things. She builds these explanations into dialogue and exposition.
Like the first book in the series, Trail of Lightning, Storm of Locusts is written in present-tense. It seems to be a trend in current fiction and often feels unsettling. Present tense cuts out much of a character’s ability to look back and reflect on their lives, ramping up the tension and action. Fortunately, this works for Storm of Locusts. Maggie is not an introspective character. Her past is unpleasant and she doesn’t care to look back at it. She even has a hard time contemplating her present, though that may change in future books, thanks to the fallout from the finale.
Though they don’t receive equal ‘screen time’, all the characters show some degree of development, and it all feels appropriate to their personalities and the events. Maggie, Rissa, and even Kai have grown and changed from the beginning of the book to the end of it. These changes are organic and will be necessary as the series progresses. Maggie will not survive if she insists on distancing herself from the rest of the world, and she seems to have realized this by the end of the book. Whether or not she will accept this fact and do something about it is another story– one for the next installment in this clever and fast-paced series.