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.
Don’t you just love it when you go into books with low expectations and it surprises you in all the best ways?
Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse did all that and more for me.
I read this as a buddy read with @readbynels (check her out on instagram) as we both decided we wanted to explore more indigenous literature. She suggested Black Sun and I trusted her judgement implicitly
I’m so glad I did.
Roanhorse wrote a novel about light vs darkness and good vs evil. The pain of being alone and knowing that you serve a greater purpose. Even if you don’t truly understand what that may be. These characters were morally grey. Each with their own flaws and troubles. A beautiful woven story exploring blurred lines between science, religion, political intrigue and forbidden magic and lingering in the background were themes of betrayal, love, loss, loneliness and pain.
The front cover is also very stunning.
And the characters! The representation! This is how you do it! The character development was truly something beautiful. I was enthralled by every character. From Serapio and watching him grow and learn how his blindness is a part of who he is. Xiala and her powers. Even the priests in the tower and their betrayal and lies. This book explores different characters and thus, the chapters to jump from one place to another. Whilst, ordinarily, I would get confused in the beginning and spend a lot of time trying to figure out who was who, I grew to understand these characters so quickly. There wasn’t a moment where I felt confused becuase Roanhorse had described and plotted everything perfectly.
“Tell me your stories so that I might know who you are and what you value…”
As Epic Fantasy goes, this work of art has clearly been perfected from Roanhorse’s other works. Whilst, I wasn’t sure what to expect, the layered world-building was spectacular. I think I would have greatly benefitted from a map – which was my only criticism. There were so many different places and cities, that I just wanted to keep up with it all. Regardless of that, Roanhorse has done her research into indigenous culture. The myths explored are rich in culture and I can’t wait to see how much further she takes it with the next few books.
Serapio was just as much a villain as he was painted as a hero. Scarred and Blind, Roanhorse portrayed his morally grey character so damn well. You spend a lot of the novel feeling for him and understanding his isolated ways. Even his desire for companionship. But then, that ending. THAT ENDING. I don’t even think there’s anything I can say. Just know that I am extremely excited to see where Roanhorse takes his character in the next few novels.
“When someone describes a man as harmless, he ends up being a villain…”
Naranpa’s character was interesting. She is meant to be Serapio’s enemy and thus, Roanhorse portrays her character as neither a hero or villain. As someone that risen out of the impoverished town of ‘The Maw’ to work her way up to Sun Priest, she’s seen as not worthy. She also experiences assasination attempts, family issues and the rise of a cult. She seems to be someone that wants the best for her people, whilst she shuns the place she truly came from. There’s a sense of desperation and need for acceptance as she tries to lead. And integrated into this fantasy society is a class system, that suggests because of Naranpa’s background she’ll never truly be able to fulfil her place as the Sun Priest. A notion which is dismissed towards the end of the book.
Her character and the rest of the priests are a great display of political intrigue and betrayal. Naranpa sees a system in desperate need of readjusting but the rest of the characters around her want the opposite. Whether that’s because they don’t think it’s necessary or the current system benefits them, is completely up in the air for a while. Roanhorse hints at either reason with leniency to the latter. Despite the novel’s Pre-Columbus influences, this part of the narrative was oddly reflective of current governments.
“Why try to educate those who cared not to learn?”
Especially within, western countries where the rich that rule the government, don’t see the need for true change unless it’s going to benefit them. It’s a theme that I found quite interesting within the story and I’m wondering how much further Roanhorse will take it in the next few books.
Okoa’s character came in quite late but it’s clear he’ll play a bigger part in the next couple of books. His narrative parraleled Naranpa’s, whilst his open debate about Serapio’s existence added an extra layer to Serapio’s role within the novel. We understand the reverence and myth surrounding Serapio, upholding this added mystery to his character throughout the book.
Xiala was by far my favourite character. The magic and power she has are truly interesting. She was so much more than Serapio’s love interest and whilst, I didn’t feel Roanhorse explored her backstory as much – I have a feeling we’ll see loads more in the rest of the series. She’s constantly judged and betrayed in the book. We get the impression that she is living life day to day, there’s no real plan, to end goal. She’s surviving…that is until she is offered the opportunity to help Serapio travel.
This has the potential to truly be astounding. Black Sun is an award-winning novel and it’s so well deserved. If there’s anyone that wants to get into Epic Fantasy, but doesn’t know where to start…Black Sun is the one for you. Easy to follow and very well written, you’ll fall in love with all the characters.
“I am the only storm that matters now, and there is no shelter from what I bring.”