BookBrowse Reviews Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

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Black Sun

Between Earth and Sky #1

by Rebecca Roanhorse

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse X
Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
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  • Published:
    Oct 2020, 464 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Debbie Morrison
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When an ancient god is reborn, the world will be remade. Rebecca Roanhorse's Black Sun, the first book in the Between Earth and Sky series, is a stunning, subversive foray into fantasy world-building.

Reading the first book in a series is always difficult because readers know that, by definition, it will leave them feeling a bit unsatisfied. After all, even if it's a remarkable read, as the book draws to a close, the characters' journeys are incomplete. They still have an unknown destiny out in front of them. In this regard, Rebecca Roanhorse's Black Sun is no different. By the end of this first book in the Between Earth and Sky series, readers will have some answers but will also be sorely in want of more. This want exists in part because of the novel's minor flaw in pacing. Though there is plenty of action evenly distributed throughout most of the novel to move the story along, the final action sequence — the one to which everything has been so carefully building — passes by in a blur. Rather than producing the giant crescendo Roanhorse was perhaps looking for, characters who readers expect to have big, illuminating moments of confrontation and clarity are somewhat swept aside in haste. Having said that, I think readers will find that, beyond this blip, they are left wanting more simply because the novel is such a marvel overall.

Black Sun embodies some of the best that fantasy writing has to offer: meticulous and expansive world-building, magic and mystical creatures, and a glorious cast of fallible and transgressive yet likable characters bound together in a collective heroes' journey. This journey involves a showdown between two powerful forces. In a world where a whole host of gods once held sway, the Watchers in the Tower, a religious order who in years past slaughtered dissenters in the "Night of Knives," scheme to maintain control. But a rare celestial occurrence — the Convergence of the Earth, Moon, and Sun — provides an opportunity for a young man named Serapio to usher in the return of one of the powerful old gods. Serapio is a member of the Carrion Crow clan, raised from birth to become the vessel of said god. A masterful sailor and sea siren named Xiala is tasked with seeing him safely to his destiny.

Rather than modeling its alternate reality after medieval Europe (as so many successful fantasy novels have done), Roanhorse takes readers into the pre-Columbian culture and landscape of the Americas. Historically, when fictional/fantasy literary landscapes have so often erased whole races, cultures and gender identities, Black Sun's alternative landscapes restore a plurality and give those voices space to be heard.

One of the most significant aspects of this restoration is the way Roanhorse approaches gender identity. The novel features powerful matriarchal societies — Xiala's Teek people engage with men for reproduction but do not invite them to stay in their community. They remain independent and self-governing in their social structure and in their worship of the "Mother waters," the Teek people's goddess of the sea. In Tova, the seat of power for the Watchers, a woman leads as the Sun Priest and the four major tribes of Tova, the great houses, are also ruled by women. In one scene, two characters, Okoa and Feyou, meet after an absence of many years. Okoa does not recognize his old friend because she no longer looks as she once did. Feyou asks, "You don't remember me, do you, Okoa? We played together as boys." When Okoa inquires as to how she became a woman, Feyou simply replies, "I was always a woman. I just needed some time to become who I am." One thing that's so refreshing about this book is that this moment of focused attention on gender identity is rare. While the novel is full of diverse gender roles and identities, by and large Roanhorse gives these characters space to simply exist within the narrative without having to explain themselves. There is no overt defense of their humanity or right to be as they are. Instead, these characters, like all others, are free to love, hate, feud, scheme, fight and strive in accordance to their own will. Ultimately, the expansiveness and creativity of Black Sun is an unforgettable experience and readers will be clamoring to read the rest of the series to come.

Reviewed by Debbie Morrison

This review is from the Black Sun. It first ran in the November 18, 2020 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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