Black Sun is a novel by Rebecca Roanhorse. It’s a fantasy story set in a world with Native American and Mesoamerican (Maya, Inca) influences. It was also nominated for a Hugo.
Plot and characters
The great convergence approaches, when a solar eclipse will coincide with the winter solstice. In the city of Tova, the priesthood is eagerly awaiting the event. Nara is the head of the sun priests, ostensibly the most powerful person in Tova, but appearances can be deceiving. She seeks to restore her actual power, but is beset by traditionalists.
This is because the sun priests tried to decimate the Carrion Crow clan’s religion decades earlier. They did so by sending their Knives slaughtering. That massacre festers in Carrion Crow and undermines the balance of power.
Okoa is a Carrion Crow who wants no part in this, but is dragged in anyway. He lives away from Tova at the war college, learning to defend his sister, the matron-to-be of the clan. When his mother dies, Okoa returns to Tova, only to learn his mother was murdered.
Meanwhile, in a city far away from Tova, Xiala, a half-mermaid sailor, awakens in a cell. After a night of debauchery she apparently slept with the wrong man’s wife and was caught. It is a sure death sentence. However, a local merchant lord shows up and offers her a way out. He recruits her to take a ship to Tova. The catch, it must be record-quick and be there before the convergence.
Xiala’s cargo is a young blind man, Serapio. Serapio was born in Obregi to a local lord, but his mother was a Carrion Crow, exiled to the far-away city Obregi. At eleven years old, his mother sewed his eyes shut and carved the image of a crow into his chest. Then she threw herself off a tower to her death. For years, Serapio has been blind, and has honed his other senses and magical powers. Now, he returns to Tova to become a god.
I loved Rebecca Roanhorse’s earlier work, Trail of Lightning, and this book is a breath of fresh air as well. I have to say it took a little more getting into it than Trail of Lightning. This is more an epic-fantasy story, where Trail of Lightning is post-apocalyptic-urban-fantasy (is that a thing? I don’t know). Black Sun is a complicated tale, with four viewpoint characters in different geographical locations, interspersed with flashbacks.
The story grows on you, though. Serapio is just awesome, and Xiala has the same bad-girl vibe Maggy had in Trail of Lightning. Nara is, well, a good soul. beset from all sides. You want it all to work out, but things just get darker as the converge approaches.
Each chapter is prefaced with the days (or years) till the convergence, ratcheting up the tension that will end in the convergence itself. Unfortunately, it is also only the first part of a trilogy, meaning the story is far from over.
Black Sun is a must-read for epic fantasy fans, I would say. It has a fresh setting compared to all the European-based Lord of the Rings clones, and a compelling story. If you’re not into epic fantasy, though, then this might not be the book for you.