Toward a Proclaimed Destiny: Jackie Solomon Reviews "Black Sun"
Rebecca Roanhorse's prolific writing has won the Nebula, Hugo, and Locus awards as well as the 2018 Astounding Award for Best New Writer. While she mainly writes speculative fiction, she has written in multiple other genres, even contributing to the Star Wars franchise by writing Star Wars: Resistance Reborn. However, Black Sun, the first book in the Between Earth and Sky trilogy, is her first contribution to the epic fantasy genre. Even so, the novel indicates Roanhorse’s natural skill for world-building and narrative.
Black Sun opens with one of the most intriguing hooks I have ever read: “Today he would become a god. His mother had told him so.” The power of assuming a state of divinity set in contrast with the vulnerability of a child deferring to his mother’s edict immediately sets the tone for the rest of the narrative of Serapio, one of the main viewpoint characters in this novel. What transpires in this first chapter indeed launches Serapio’s journey toward his mother’s proclaimed destiny for him. In flashbacks, readers see what Serapio’s training looks like, but in the present day, it is almost time for Serapio to fulfill his purpose; he just needs to get to the right place at the right time.
This is where Xiala, another main character, comes in. After waking up with a hangover in a jail cell, she is hired as a captain for a dangerous voyage across the Crescent Sea. For reasons unknown to her and the crew, she must deliver Serapio to the faraway city of Tova on the other side of the Meridian Continent before the start of the Winter Solstice (for those who prefer visuals of geography, there is a beautiful, colored map on the inside cover of the book).
The journey is not easy for either Serapio or Xiala. Serapio must adjust his clothing and remain alone in his quarters to assuage the fears of the crew, and Xiala must contend with the crew’s superstition and prejudice against her identity as a woman and as a member of the Teek race. She continually has to prove herself a worthy captain, and the crew fears and disrespects her and her magical ability, known as her Song, unless its use benefits them in their passage. Xiala and Serapio, drawn to each other’s magic, become friends, and maybe something more, over the course of the trip to Tova.
In Tova, long bridges connect but also separate each of the clans that reside in the city. Naranpa, our third main character, is the highest-ranking member of the city’s priesthood. Even though she worked hard to earn her spot as Sun Priest, she experiences danger and political pushback on multiple fronts. Attempts on her life have been made by assassins suspected to be members of the Carrion Crow Clan, which the priesthood had once massacred. In addition, her efforts to reform the priesthood are hindered, especially by her fellow priests’ prejudice against her impoverished background. Eventually, Naranpa must reconcile family, ambition, the fate of the priesthood, and perhaps that of the entire city.
The Meridian Continent deals with pervasive racism, classism, and sexism through the lens of magic and fantasy. Yet, this world is also a space where queer experiences and identities are explored as normative. Beyond queer flings and relationships, Roanhorse introduces two nonbinary characters. Iktan, Naranpa’s ex-lover and closest friend, and Powageh, one of Serapio’s tutors from his past, use gender neutral pronouns and possessives. The characters who interact with Iktan and Powageh generally do not characterize their pronouns (xe and xir) as deviating from any sort of norm, except when Serapio at first demonstrates curiosity toward Powageh’s assertion that “xe'' is neither man nor woman.
Rebecca Roanhorse weaves an exquisite and swashbuckling narrative, one that leaves Serapio’s narrative teetering at the edge of a cliff. This book has deprived me of sleep and made me break my promise to stop drinking coffee. I greatly anticipate the next installment of the trilogy.
By Rebecca Roanhorse
Jackie Solomon is from Houston, Texas. She graduated from Villanova University in 2021 with a B.A. in English and minors in Spanish and Criminology. She has been creative writing her entire life and ultimately hopes to write a novel of her own, but she also enjoys hiking, reading, and cooking. She will be attending law school in Fall 2021 in order to pursue criminal justice and mental health law.