While this was my second time reading the book, I’m counting it as my first. I read this the year it came out (2020) and suffice it to say, the events of that year were more on my mind than reading and I don’t remember much of what I read. However, this second time around now made it one of my favorite books of 2022 and probably one of my all-time favorites as well.
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.
Wow. From beginning to end, this book captured me heart and soul. Fast-paced, energetic, witty, and hopeful, I couldn’t get enough of this book the second time around.
Falling into this world made me think of authors like Sabaa Tahir and VE Schwab where you’re immersed in a world where magic exists, gods are listening, and the politics are tired of one group always leading the charge. The characters play a huge part of the story and Rebecca Roanhorse does an exceptional job of connecting the characters with the readers. I don’t know much about Pre-Columbian America, so this book really showed it through the food, the politics, the gender identity of some of the characters, and the myths and lore. The characters in this story were also so well developed and different. I loved getting to know Serapio, Naranpa, Xiala, Ithak, and Okoa. I found myself really wanting to read more about Xiala and Serapio throughout the story, but I found Naranpa’s character also so intriguing. I really do hope that Rebecca Roanhorse goes into her character deeper in the second book.
But this is Serapio’s story and definitely the most important part. He’s the “chosen one,” born to be the vessel of a god and enact a revenge set in motion years before he was even conceived. Within the first chapter, you see his mother imbue him with the power of a god. As brutal as that was, Serapio understands his position, understands what he needs to do, and accepts his destiny without even considering otherwise.
One of the central themes of this book is the chosen one trope. I thought a lot about this because while Serapio is the “chosen one” of this story, it almost felt like it’s an un-chosen destiny. It surprised me when I realized this and how Rebecca Roanhorse writes the character. The downside of being the chosen one is that you’re designed for a destiny you didn’t choose. You’re stuck with having to meet some bigger prophecy or need within the story. For the most part Serapio is fine with his destiny. He’s chosen to be the god the cultists want him to be, but I do believe that there are small moments throughout that make him consider otherwise, which make for such a deeper and richer character.
And that’s what’s incredible about Roanhorse’s writing. You know that Serapio needs to make some great sacrifice at the end, but he doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The people he meets along the way, the influence they have on him, it affects him and getting deep into his psyche to read what he’s feeling is where I felt an emotional pull to his story. There were times where I wanted his destiny to be wrong or something different happen at the end because I’d become so emotionally attached to him and wanted the best for him. It’s a sign of good writing when you’re feeling things for a fictional character.
Each chapter begins with a timeline that rushes down to the Convergence; a moment when the sun and the moon come together bringing good luck to the people of Tova. And as you’re reading, you see a lot of events leading up to this. First, there’s Serapio’s mission, then there’s an attempt at assassinating the Sun Priest, Naranpa. And then on top of that, there’s a political shift taking place that all come together. You may think that none of these components work together, but the way that Roanhorse writes the story cleverly combines them into one. You watch as all these pieces come together to its inevitable end and while you see it coming, the characters don’t. I might have been yelling at my book a few times hoping that someone would finally see the bigger picture. But it’s just you and your book yelling out loud and people are staring.
The second central theme is the idea that people can overcome adversity. From Naranpa to Xiala, these characters faced challenges based on their upbringing and their race. It was interesting to see how both of these characters faced it. One pushed against it to the point of denouncing her family. The other fights against the adversity and isn’t ashamed of where she comes from. And the interesting part is seeing how these play out for them throughout the story. Both are judged by outsiders for who they are; one is met with some form of acceptance to a degree while the other is met with adversity at every point she made. Nothing came easy for either of these characters, but I loved their juxtaposition and how some folks embrace their culture while others push it away.
And all top of that, it’s an excellent plot-driven story with a ton of character development and world building. It’s seriously on another level and this book truly made me a fan of Rebecca Roanhorse for life. I couldn’t get enough of this book. I know I’ll definitely be reading book two soon and so surprised at myself for not remembering what I read the first time. I’m so glad I came back and read it again.