Black Sun (Book Review)
by Rebecca Roanhorse
5 / 5 Stars
I could not put this down!
Black Sun follows three characters - Serpio, a blinded, scarred young man travelling to meet his destiny; Xiala, a magical sea captain; and Narapa, a newly appointed high priest of the sun. All are waiting for the solar eclipse when a prophecy is said to be evoked.
The setting draws you in right away. It’s a fantastical world based on myths from pre-colonial Americas. There’s a magic system that doesn’t contain a vast number of rules or exposition and there are several mythological creatures. I will admit I couldn’t really picture what the places looked like, but places don’t matter as much to be as other stuff anyway. Also boats. I like boats quite a bit so any book that features a ship on the sea I tend to already approach favourably.
Two of the main characters were exceptional. Xiala was feisty, brave, and the personification of freedom. I loved how she just did what she felt like and didn’t worry about the future. Her magic was interesting too. And Serpio. Talk about your dark, sexy weirdo (“he was dangerous, unfathomably attractive, and clearly on some single-minded mission that made him entirely unavailable”). Ah yes, my type for sure. I appreciated that we didn’t get too many chapters dealing with his training - those are always boring to me. Xiala and Serpio were an amazing contrasting pair. Their sexual tensions was off the charts and I loved how their different but shared magic was what initially brought them together. I loved how Serpio’s blindness was addressed and included in the story, but not in a disparaging way.
Two of the other main characters were less compelling. Okoa we only meet near the end and don’t learn a lot about, and Naranpa was a little boring, or perhaps I just didn’t get her deal. She was supposedly in her thirties and has been granted this position of great power, but she doesn’t seem to understand the situation she’s in. Her personality wasn’t consistent. In truth, I found this section of the book almost unnecessary - it felt like it only existed to provide background to Serpio’s journey. The plot for the most part was a little lacklustre, but the characters outweighed this issue.
The diversity in terms of gender was exceptional. One thing that always irks me about fantasy (especially traditionally) is how writers can’t seem to grasp that it’s a fantasy world. It doesn’t have to exist under the same social constraints and patriarchal notions that we do. Likewise, just because it’s “old” doesn’t mean it’s less progressive. The Huns, for example, had female warriors, and other ancient civilizations were better about LGBTQ and women’s rights than lots of countries now. I really loved the casual (and by that I mean not forced) approach to diversity in this book, how the society just felt more equal in most respects due to the normalization of queer and non-binary characters.
I also very much enjoy Roanhorse’s writing style. Sometimes Fantasy can try too hard to sound like high fantasy - with elevated language and overly descriptive structures and sentences. The people in this book talk like real people but without anachronisms. Despite the way the people spoke, it was clear this was not a “modern” story.
Overall, it's a fresh, interesting take on a glutted genre, with memorable characters and a compelling world.