A Review of ‘Black Sun’ by Rebecca Roanhorse, Book 1 in the Between Earth and Sky Series

Spoilers Below! You’ve been warned. Also, all reviews are subjective. My opinions are my own.

I got this book for free for the purpose of an honest review.

I’ll just be up front with this: this is probably going to be my favorite book of the year. As of right now, I’m thinking this is one of the best book I’ve read in years. This is a Political Fantasy novel set in a grounded-but-magical world, with fantastic characterization- all features I like. I am this book’s target audience. But even if I wasn’t the target audience, I’d have to admit that this book is good.


CHARACTERS AND CHARACTERIZATION:

The characters in this book are rich in subtext. It’s very clear that there’s a lot of stuff going on under the hood of all these people. They have rich, thriving personalities, but they all play their cards close to their chests. As I mentioned above, this is a Political Fantasy novel about various factions striving for power. Virtually all the characters have to live subtle, guarded lives, keeping their emotions under control for the sake of not giving their enemies information. You get to know all the protagonists deeply despite the fact that they are trying to hide themselves. Really neat writing!

Overall, I give the story’s Characterization a rating of: (A-)


PACING AND STRUCTURE

These are compelling characters. You’re cheering for them to succeed, even though many of the protagonists have conflicting interests. For one protagonist to succeed, another must fail. This tension, the tension of knowing that for one protagonist to succeed the others must fail, made the buildup to the climax enthralling.

The pacing of this book was a bit slow, but it was deliberate slowness. The author didn’t include battles or fight scenes, favoring instead political scenes and travel logs. Don’t get me wrong, the book was rich with conflict and death (there were assassinations and blood magic, for example), but if you read primarily for combat, it’s a bit thin on the ground in this one.

Go in expecting a relatively slow but tense story and your expectations won’t be disappointed.

Overall, I give the story’s Pacing and Structure: (A)


PLOT

The book has two main plotlines, and four protagonists. The two plotlines converge at the end of the story.

One plotline was a travel log. Two protagonists (the human avatar of a crow-god and a mermaid demigod) sail halfway across the world on a pilgrimage to a Holy City in time for a celestial convergence of stars. These two characters must overcome the trials of storms, human treachery and and an entirely unexpected romance. The romance works well because both protagonists are depicted as being either emotionally scarred, so we’re rooting for them to get together to heal some scars.

The other plotline takes place in the Holy City. Various factions struggle for control of the priesthood which dominates the city, as well as struggle to be freed from the oppression of said priesthood. One protagonist is the present high priest of the city, struggling to stave off an insurrection in the ranks of the priesthood even as people are trying to assassinate her. The other protagonist is the military leader of an oppressed clan, who’s struggling to stave off being eradicated by the priesthood.

I felt that the high priest protagonist Nara lacked agency, making her scenes feel clunky. It is possible to write a compelling protagonist with little agency, however I felt Nara should have known from very early on that she was in trouble and should have done more to head off the obvious problems which were heading her way. (The priesthood was a very obvious political organization; how can the high priest possibly be so blind to politics that she was taken by surprised by insurrection? It made her seem naive, and less compelling. I wanted her to realize people were scheming against her, and for her to try to counter-scheme them in return. But she didn’t.)

Overall, I give the story’s Plot: (A-)


EVERYTHING ELSE (SETTING, WORLDBUILDING, PROSE AND THEME)

This book has crisp, lean, humbly beautiful prose. Non-ostentatious but nonetheless compelling to read for it’s own sake.

The setting and worldbuilding stretch between earth and sky, being down-to-earth and grounded, while also being vaunted and glorious. Both subtle and compelling. It is rich in lore and gods and strange occurrences. The author shows just enough of the world (it’s system of trade between cities; how different clans use resources like jade or turquoise or mica for jewelry), to make it seem alive.

The book had themes of sacrifice, the inevitability of bloodshed and the cycle of hatred. From page 1, the resentments of generations weighed down the novel, pushing the story forward to a doomed conclusion. The protagonists, for all that they tried to prevent the inevitable, were unable to resist fate.

At times it almost seemed like bloodshed could have been prevented, but it was not to be. Xiala’s love for Serapio wasn’t quite enough to make him change his mind. Nara and Okoa failed to find a peace accord because the political system asserted itself to prevent a peaceful outcome yet again. This is good use of themes, giving the story resonance and inevitability and foreshadowing.

I give Everything Else: (A+)


SUMMARY

This might wind up being the best book I read this year. It is simply excellent, one of the best books I’ve ever read. It had it’s flaws. I felt that Nara should have been better at navigating the political waters of the priesthood as she was high priest. But overall I loved this book. I wish this book was just a bit longer, so the romance could settle into itself a bit more, so Nara could scheme more.

But it’s important when judging a book to not judge it by what it isn’t, but to judge it by what it is. This is well written and masterfully plotted, with a satisfying and relentless climax. The characters all have distinct personalities, wants, needs and fears, with clear motives and emotional scarring. The surprising-but-inevitable conclusion was perfectly in line with those motives and emotional scars, giving the story the feel of a Greek tragedy. I eagerly anticipate book 2, whenever it comes out.

In other words, this book is good, go read it.


STARS:  5 OUT OF 5 STARS (5 stars=Perfect, 4 Stars=Great, 3 Stars=Good, 2 Stars=Fun but Flawed, 1 Star=Not Recommended)

JUDGEMENT: A slow burner of a book, about characters struggling against the inevitable. Well written and brutal.

Overall Rating: Highly Recommended (How I Rate Books)


Goodreads

Genres/Tagwords: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Adult, Kickass Female Protagonist, Native American Fantasy, Kinda Historical Fiction, LGBT

Previous books by the author/in the series I’ve reviewed:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s