Magic and Culture Flourish in the Dark Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

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Looking ahead to the Hugo Awards 2021, we’re taking the time to appreciate this year’s top finalists for this year’s novel, and what makes each of them great.

With Black Sun, Rebecca Roanhorse creates the world of the Sky Made clans, their powerful priests and a boy who would hold a god within him to bring about revenge and rebellion from a people.

Touching no one civilization in particular and, in one way or another, several, Roanhorse creates a unique mythology and builds a world that is both recognizable and new, a breath of fresh air for all fantasy lovers, in especially those who recognize that not all fantastic worlds are rooted in Europe. esque landscapes reminiscent of the Celts. Magic, adventure and heroes are everywhere, but particularly powerful and beautiful everywhere, from Africa to the Caribbean to the Americas. His characters are a perfect blend of anti-heroes, adventurers, dreamers, fanatics and warriors.

In Tova, Naranpa is a newly appointed solar priest from the city slums, called the Maw of the Coyote, who made his way from the servant of the Heavenly Tower to ascend to the position of leader of the priesthood. She seeks to strengthen the priesthood with its now mainly symbolic stature to unite the Sky Made clans once again. However, the city is still haunted by the horrific event called the Night of the Knives a generation before, when many members of the Carrion Crow clan were butchered by priesthood guards, called the Knives, to suppress the worship of their elders. gods. Naranpa must navigate the sinister plots of his fellow priests and the Scavenging Raven cultists, who still believe their god will be reborn and ascended during Convergence, when the sun, earth, and moon all align.

In another country far from Tova, a young woman who was one of the survivors of that tragic night has made it her life-long mission to destroy the priesthood. She raised her son, Serapio, until he was twelve, when she forces him to look straight into an eclipse, blinding him and sealing the power of the raven god. A decade later, it’s through Serapio’s journey that we meet Captain Teek, Xiala, the most intriguing of Roanhorse’s characters. The Teeks are a mysterious all-female marine clan who live on a mythical island, whose power comes from their song. Xiala was kicked out of her house and went aimlessly from boat to boat, using her special Teek navigation system. After a shoddy job, she wakes up in prison after drowning her sorrows in alcohol and a beautiful woman, only to be rescued by a lord who orders her to take a mysterious young man to Tova in twenty days.

So begins the journey of Xiala and Serapio, who come closer and closer as they navigate both a dangerous sea and crew, and unravel the secrets of their personal magic. Serapio must reach Tova on Convergence to fulfill his destiny, which he fully embraces, and Xiala discovers that she might want solid ground after all. Through it all, totally ignoring the god who is coming for her, Naranpa must find out how far she is willing to go for her own ideals.

Black Sun thrives with a magic and a culture reminiscent of great empires such as the Aztecs and Mayans. I can see the red rock faces of my own beloved New Mexico home, as well as my own ancestors, the Lokono, great sailors who traveled by canoe from South America to settle on the islands of the Caribbean. The magical crows and bugs that Clans of Heaven ride and the majestic city of Tova ride, along with the song of Xiala, are all part of a magical cloth that you want to wrap yourself up and wear proudly.

In her thanks, Roanhorse points out that this is not a history book, that she has mixed cultures and completely concocted many other parts. The subject of cultural appropriation is thorny, especially within BIPOC communities. I am of white European descent and indigenous to the West African Caribbean so can only speak about this place. I always continually seek to learn more about my ancestors, to decolonize my mind and body, while recognizing my enormous privileges and ceding space to those who do not have those same privileges. It must be said, however, that we are the toughest on our own people and have internalized the oppression of the colonizer so much that we repeat many of the cruel and hurtful things they have done to us. We have integrated what they tell us to be whiteness and what is not too well. We become their best weapons when we allow ourselves to live in their poisoned constructions.

We have to go beyond whiteness and the fantastic genre has to be decolonized as well. As I wrote before, it is imperative that our imaginations break free from European / American definitions of borders and what can be, let alone what can be written. I believe this is what Roanhorse does with her job and she does it extremely well. I know that she, like many of us, works in a place of love and learning. So I rejoice Black Sun with open arms, as I hope you will too.

An earlier version of this article was originally published in October 2020.

Angela Maria Spring is the owner of Duende District, a mobile bookstore and boutique by and for people of color, where everyone is welcome. She holds an MA in Poetry from Sarah Lawrence College, has been a judge for the Kirkus Fiction Prize 2018, and has upcoming work in Radar Poetry, Pilgrimage, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review and Third Wednesday. You can find her on Twitter at @BurquenaBoricua or to duendedistrict.com.

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