Author: Rebecca Roanhorse
Release date: 13 October 2020
Publisher: Gallery/Saga Press
Genre: Fantasy, Science Fiction
A god will return
When the earth and sky converge
Under the black sun
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.
Black Sun‘s cover has a blurb from New York Times describing Rebecca Roanhorse’s fantasy as “deeply satisfying.” I have to say, I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment. Black Sun makes for a macabre yet satisfying read.
A high fantasy inspired by the pre-Columbian America civilizations, Black Sun centres it story around the rarest Celestial event called the Convergence which happens on the winter solstice of The Year of the Sun’s 325th year. The event, in which the sun, the moon, and the earth will align, is said to dictate a shift of the world balancing from order to chaos then back to order as the sun appears to mark the light prevailing. While this would normally be a time for celebration and renewal, the priests and clans of the holy city of Tova find themselves in fear of a possible reckoning for a past blood-soaked sin following growing rumours of the resurgence of a cult that worships the Crow God.
Throughout all this, Black Sun follows four storylines: a Sun Priest struggling to juggle between re-asserting her power to bring concrete change to the city and numerous threats to both her position and her life, a warrior returning home after learning disturbing news of his mother’s death and finding himself out of his depth in his search for the truth, a strange captain heading a ship towards Tova, and an even stranger passenger on said ship desperate to make it to Tova in time for the solstice. As the four get closer to converge in Tova for the celestial event, dark truths are revealed in a breakneck speed foreboding an ominous turn of events that is to occur on the Convergence.
Background and Worldbuilding
The worldbuilding in this book is inspired by pre-Columbian American civilizations. I admit that I have very little knowledge of these cultures – hence I am entirely unfamiliar with. I was told that Roanhorse’s setting was essentially a melting pot taking facets from a myriad of cultures (e.g. Yutatec Maya, Tewan, and Aztec cultures among others). With my unfamiliarity, I found Roanhorse’s world to be rich in detail, atmosphere, and life. Coupled with the complex political machineries in Tova, I found myself fascinated and eager to explore more of this wonderful world Roanhorse has created.
Keeping Up with the Tovans
As the Convergence approaches, Black Sun develops its pieces of the chessboard as the characters unveil the mystery of what is to occur on the fateful day. The Sun Priest Naranpa and the warrior Okoa’s storylines cover the more political aspects of Black Sun‘s story, and more context to what have happened to drive the ominous gears of fate that awaits everyone on the fateful day.
Through Naranpa’s eyes we see the class division and prejudices that run deep in Tova. Even though Nara has risen to one of the highest ranks of order, she realises that she will never truly accepted by the people around her due to the low place of her birth. Instead, she constantly has to prove herself and assert her power to retain her position, an endeavour that slowly taxes her as she also has to deal with threats to her life related to growing rumours of the Crow God cult’s resurgence. While her situation grows uglier along with the darker truths she discovers, she is forced to reckon with her roots and confront her less altruistic nature that comes from a place of wanting a better life for herself. Her desperation resonates deeply as she also struggles between putting her faith in others and defensively trusting no one but herself.
To be honest I found Okoa’s storyline to be overshadowed by Naranpa’s since his storyline was more plot-driven in that the sole focus is to investigate the truth of his mother the Crow Matron’s death; but the plot segued to provide the bigger picture of Tova’s past sin given that Okoa comes from the clan that had been wronged in an act that left hundreds of the clan dead. Nonetheless I was intrigued with his situation: stuck in an impossible situation, and having a great deal of expectation put into him following his mother’s death with no certainty as to who to trust. He comes into the fray in the fallout of Black Sun‘s climax and I’m looking forward to see how his involvement develops in the sequels.
Serapio and Xiala’s storylines explore more of Black Sun‘s more supernatural and fantastical elements, ranging from mermaids and giant birds to gods and crow mythology. Xiala is a sailor and a sea creature whose song gravitates some power over the sea. She is by the most generic sense an audience surrogate slowly learning of the happenings in Tova and just why the mysterious stranger she carries needs to arrive before the Convergence occurs; but Black Sun also takes the time to slowly unveil layers of her own character and backstory beyond that. Exploring her mysterious Teek heritage was one of the exhilarating parts of the book, but I can sense that there is a lot more to unpack from her background here than just her heritage – I’m hoping we’ll learn more about her as we go on in the series.
I’m not going to lie, Serapio’s storyline captivated me the most in this book. Being a primed candidate for the Crow God’s awaited retribution to the Sun, Roanhorse peppers in a LOT of crow imageries in Black Sun – and they’re not pretty to say the least. The incredibly macabre imageries across the story absolutely won me over, and played a huge part in setting up the tone of the story, which is pretty gruesome. The opening chapter in which he is introduced is one of the most visceral and gruesome I’ve ever read. Through flashbacks we see the cruel upbringing flung on the young and trusting boy, and in the present we see him as a mysterious and adept young man ready to dive into his predestined fate.
I also wasn’t expecting Serapio and Xiala to have the chemistry they did. While they initially connect over their shared identity of people with powers that alienate them from others, their relationship evolved to a genuine one with great emotional depth I couldn’t help but root for despite all odds.
All these topped with ominous foreshadowing and characterization, I couldn’t help but instinctively recognise the direction Black Sun was going and that there was just no way to prevent the events from happening around mid-way through the book. By the time everything is out in the open, decisions have been made and whatever happens, happens. Once the pieces of the chessboard are clearly developed, the climax of Black Sun absolutely stunned me and left me anticipating the fallout from the dramatic turn of events.
Black Sun aptly sets the tone of the Between Earth and Sky series as it prepares for a pivotal moment that will change the world order. Dark truths are brought to light, and past sins are brutally paid for in Black Sun. To drive the knife in further, there is nothing anyone can do about it since decisions have been made and everyone makes choices that dig themselves deeper to fate’s ominous tidings. Roanhorse’s bold and shocking choice of storytelling left me horrified, yet enamoured and desperate to witness what’s to come throughout the two books Roanhorse has left to tell. Offering dark prophesies, dark magic, powerful and dangerous women, macabre imageries, and beautifully constructed settings, Black Sun is a strong start to what is to be an unforgettable new entry in the high fantasy/epic genre. Between Earth and Sky is going to be a dramatic, macabre rollercoaster of a series, and there’s nothing left possible to do but strap in for the ride.
And what a ride it will be.
Black Sun is set to be published on 13 October 2020.
Many thanks to NetGalley, Simon and Schuester, and Gallery/Saga Press for providing an e-ARC of this book for an honest review.