Title: Black Sun
Author: Rebecca Roanhorse
Version: ebook – ARC
Page Count: 454
Publisher: Saga Press
Add To-Read on: GoodReads, StoryGraph
Notable Notables: POC, LGBTQ+, and blind characters
Recommended Readers: Anyone wanting a fresh, non-European take on epic fantasy
Thank you to NetGalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Yes! This is it! This book is… wow!
Maybe my 2020 reading life has experienced a drought of easy, five-star reads. Maybe everything about this year has been utter shit and brimming with disappointment. So when I picked up Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse, I was begging, Please be good. You sound so interesting and your cover is gorgeous and if another of my most anticipated reads disappoints me, I will cry.
Well, Black Sun wasn’t just good; it was wonderful. It wasn’t just interesting. It was page-turning and original. I’ve already ran out and bought a copy for myself because I fell for it so hard.
(And in case you’re wondering, yes, the cover is even more dazzling in your hands, and the gold positively shimmers. I might’ve swooned.)
Black Sun is the beginning of a fantasy trilogy inspired by the civilizations of the Pre-Columbian Americas, full of old magic, political intrigue, and prophecies surrounding the return of a vengeful god. Ricocheting between past and present, the narrative hurtles towards a rare, celestial event: a Convergence, where a solar eclipse occurs during the winter solstice.
Xiala, a Teek captain whose Song can compel men’s minds and calm the ocean waves, has been given a crucial task by Balam, a Cuecola nobleman: Sail to the holy city of Tova and arrive with a single passenger before the Convergence takes place. The passenger, he assures her, is harmless, but Xiala has known enough men to reason that a “harmless” man will often become a villain.
Serapio, however, doesn’t view himself as one. Rather, he is a young man with a destiny. Blind, scarred, and with command over crows, Serapio’s journey to Tova is the culmination of a prophecy his mother bestowed to him at a young age along with the carvings she imparted on his skin.
Meanwhile, preparing for the Convergence in Tova is Naranpa, the Sun Priest, an outsider who has unexpectedly risen to great heights and been left to contend with growing political unrest, clan grudges, and lessening reliance on her priestly order. Perhaps the only person she can count on is Iktan, the Priest of Knives, who is also her protector and former lover, but Iktan may have xer own agenda.
There are other characters, of course, like a superstitious first mate and a Shield to the matriarch of Carrion Crow. All of them have such life breathed into them, even the background characters, and it was such a joy to read such natural dialogue interwoven with creative description, rich fantasy cultures, and imaginative world-building. I constantly look for fantasy books not set in yet another European-centric background because—while I do still like those—I am always hungry for something different. Black Sun proves there are other ways writers can pull off fantasy with new life, settings, and cultures, and even though it may be unfamiliar to readers, it is no less riveting.
In a rare occurrence, I also loved the POV of every character, which is rare. There’s usually one or two characters whose chapters I’ll rush through to get to the characters I care more about, but not with this book. While Naranpa had to grow on me faster than Xiala and Serapio, I came to love her perspective all the same. Another character also gets introduced later that I also appreciated, and I never once felt that his POV chapters were a pointless addition. Rather, they were increasingly necessary, and I look forward to seeing more of him in the next book.
You also learn quite a bit about Xiala’s Teek culture and how it’s received by others in the world, and I loved every morsel of information I got about it—and there’s still so much mystery and mysticism behind it and her. She’s going to be an instant favorite with readers, and she deserves it!
Then, there are the four clans in Tova: Carrion Crow, Water Strider, Golden Eagle, and Winged Serpent. The first was certainly highlighted the most in this book, but what I saw from the others was deeply engaging, and I hope to see much more of the other clans in the next books. What I saw of the Maw was also a good time. I love me some shady, underground crime bosses and gambling rings.
And also… I hope Balam comes back. He is not by any means a major character at all, but he was definitely my type, and yeah, I hope this instigator makes a glorious return. But if not, there is still plenty here to entertain me, so it’s no great loss.
Along with the wonderful characters was the narrative balance Black Sun has. It was as equally engaged with the plot as it was with character development, and usually, you find yourself getting more of one over the other. This book was fast-paced, for sure, but I felt it did an exemplary job of putting you in the character’s heads and having you learn about them while also ensuring the plot was being driven forward.
I think alternating between past and present was a clever narrative choice on Roanhorse’s part to ensure both characters and plot kept moving. Even when you are reading a chapter set in the past, you feel that the novel is building and building towards something, and when that something finally arrives, it is such a glorious pay-off. Everything about this book just paid off, and I never felt that anything was extraneous, written out of character, or took a poor direction. Roanhorse just knows how to flipping write, and I will certainly be checking out her other works soon.
Besides the world-building and such, there’s of course the diversity aspect. Every character and culture is based on civilizations in the pre-Columbian Americas, and we also have a few non-binary characters, including Iktan, and an openly bisexual character in Xiala. It was just wonderful to see such seamless relationships and interactions between all the characters, even those fraught with tension or mistrust or envy. Xiala and Serapio especially have my whole heart and soul, but also Naranpa and Iktan, and gosh, I am dying for the next book.
This is the hit we take with getting ARCs sometimes. Sure, you get early access to great books, but then the wait for the next amazing book becomes completely intolerable. And maybe my encouraging you to read Black Sun immediately means you’ll be joining an excruciating wait with me, but I think it’s worth the pain, as Serapio will certainly assure you.
So please, read Black Sun immediately.