Book Review: “Black Sun” by Rebecca Roanhorse

Blurb & Info

From the New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Resistance Reborn comes the first book in the Between Earth and Sky trilogy, inspired by the civilizations of the Pre-Columbian Americas and woven into a tale of celestial prophecies, political intrigue, and forbidden magic.

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.

Crafted with unforgettable characters, Rebecca Roanhorse has created an epic adventure exploring the decadence of power amidst the weight of history and the struggle of individuals swimming against the confines of society and their broken pasts in the most original series debut of the decade.

Published: October 13, 2020

Publisher: Saga Press (imprint of Simon & Schuster)

Pages: 454

Series: Between Earth and Sky #1

Review

First of all, this is another buddy read with the lovely Sarah @ Suits of Stories. Both of us were extremely invested in this book and really enjoying it, and we’re both eagerly awaiting a release date for the next book in the series. There is a lot to unpack here, so let’s get right into it.

Black Sun is an epic fantasy book inspired by the pre-Columbian civilizations of North and South America. It’s told in the third person through the senses of three primary characters: Xiala, a Teek woman with a mysterious past who faces social stigmatization wherever she goes; Serapio, who is “blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny” (from the synopsis) but who is also experiencing the wonder and horror of the wider world for the first time; and Naranpa, a high-ranking priestess in the holy city of Tova who wants to make some radically progressive changes within her religion… changes which are being less than warmly received by her increasingly dissident colleagues in the priesthood. A fourth viewpoint, that of a young warrior named Okoa, is introduced about halfway through the book.

The world-building in Black Sun is excellent. I adored all the little details that reinforced how this tale is something far removed from your typical, medieval-European-inspired, run-of-the-mill fantasy. The pre-Columbian inspiration is deeply embedded; you see details of it in shipbuilding and ship-handling techniques mentioned by the characters, as well as in the food and drink at their tables, their clothing, and the flora and fauna mentioned here and there. The more you know about the pre-Columbian Americas, the richer your reading experience will be, but part of Roanhorse’s mastery is how you don’t need to know; you could walk into this book totally unfamiliar with the sources from which she drew her inspiration and still have a fantastic reading experience.

I also fell in love with the LGBTQA+ representation that Roanhorse included. Multiple characters (including my beloved Iktan, the Priest of Knives and a total badass) are nonbinary and use xe/xir pronouns. Xiala is attracted to both women and men, and there is a brief glimpse of a MTF transgender character. I have my fingers crossed that further books in the series will see even more of this kind of representation.

There is a good bit of intrigue going on in Black Sun. Multiple factions are vying for power and influence, some of them openly and some of them covertly, all due to complex reasons stemming from this world’s long history. Another thing that Roanhorse did well was conveying a lot of information about the history of this fantasy world and its political factions without it ever throwing in a massive, clunky piece of exposition. Her choice to include little excerpts of information from in-universe documents at the beginning of each chapter helped in this. As the lore unfolded, I never felt lost, confused, or in need of a note-taking session.

My only gripes with this book were about A) the romance and B) the ending. For the romance, neither Sarah nor I were really onboard with the choice of characters to be paired together, and the chemistry took a long time to not feel forced. However, the place that the romantic arc found itself in at the end of this first book opens up a lot of possibilities, and I can’t deny I’m intrigued to see what those particular characters will do in regards to their feelings for one another in the sequel. As for the ending… it just wasn’t climactic. I certainly want to read the next book in the series, so it succeeded in keeping me interested, but I wasn’t left on the edge of my seat, trembling with desperation to know what happens next.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ out of 5 stars


Read (or listen to) Roanhorse’s interview with NPR on the topic of Black Sun here.

Read about the controversy surrounding Roanhorse’s alleged appropriation of Diné culture here. (I say “alleged” because some Native writers are fans of Roanhorse’s work, while others believe that it perpetuates harmful stereotypes and reinforces colonial beliefs. I am not in a position to judge which viewpoint is correct).

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