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Book Review: Navajo mythology comes alive after the climate apocalypse

Review by Robert McCool

If you have read Tony Hillerman you know the legends and folktales about immortal beings living in the Sacred Mountains that surround the Dine'tah (the Navajo reservation). Those same mountains protected the parched desert that is now the Dine'tah when the apocalypse drowned most of the world with the “Big Water.” And, after the Energy Wars there wasn't enough fuel to maintain the lifestyle we enjoy now. The world lay fallow and empty without an apology from anyone. These are dystopian tales.

What would happen if those same Navajo monsters and gods were made manifest and walk the Dine'tah territory with their legendary weapons and a bad attitude towards humans during a  flooded world wide Armageddon?

That is the proposition that Rebbeca Roanhorse presents in her “Sixth World” books, after the Big Water has ended the “Fifth World,” or the sixth time the world has been flooded. She begins the series with 2018's “Trail of Lightning” (SAGA Press, IBSN: 978-5344-1350-4), and continues with 2019's follow up “Storm of Locusts” (SAGA Press, ISBN: 978-15344-1353-5).  These are the two of Roanhorse's books that I had access to, but I'm sure there are more that I haven't found yet.

The hero (although she insists she's not a hero) of these two novels is a young adult girl named Maggie Hoskie, who has her clan-power that is the ability to kill with speed. She becomes the books “monster hunter” and later she becomes the “god slayer” of Navajo myth. With a shotgun loaded with corn pollen and obsidian crystals and a eight inch knife that she is most handy with, Maggie dispatches the evil monsters that have taken the life of a young girl.

Then she comes to the attention of a young man, and Ma'ii, who is Coyote in man form. The young man, “Kai Arviso,” is a clan-powered medicine man who aids Maggie in her most dire times. Coyote just messes with her and her plans, and it doesn't end well for him.

The first book portrays Maggie as trying to deal with her clan-powers and a betrayal from a mentor god who has been training her in destruction. She feels guilty about her powers and deserted by her teacher who has been missing for years. Kai fills some of her emptiness with a friendship that she isn't very good at. She trusts no one who isn't family.

At the end of the story she is embroiled by a disaster that she must survive. It takes some extreme measures to find her back with her grandfather and the reputation of “god slayer” that she must live with. She mistrusts Coyote more than ever and deals with him in her signature way.

The second book is more complex than the first, and resolves some of the issues from the first. Maggie is snagged by an organ harvesting complex. She rescues the girl she is now responsible for, and she and an ally put an end to the evils they've been imprisoned by.

She is reunited with Kai without the satisfaction of his friendship, and fights against a twisted monster called “The White Locust.” Although sounding like a simple story, it is most convoluted and life threatening.

Riding along on the quick turning pages with the characters is the Dine'tah landscape and beauty, the clan friendships, the Navajo food and close ties to the earth that have been saved for them.

These are cautionary tales without preaching about how poorly we care for the earth. I mean, we all know where the environmental catastrophe is going to happen with the already changed climate. The coasts will be the first to be flooded, with the world becoming more inhabitable as crisis after crisis points out the way that our efforts should be now are way too late. The west will be eaten by the out of control wildfires we suffer even now. Is there no turning back the time when we allowed this? These books don't threaten the reader, they just state the obvious.

These are good stories to be read and enjoyed by all of us who don't care about fantasy and those who do. I enjoyed these quick books and their stories of bravery and courage. They're just plain good.

Thank you, Rebecca Roanhorse.

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Friday, September 23, 2022