The 2021 Hugo Nominees: 'Black Sun' by Rebecca Roanhorse Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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The 2021 Hugo Nominees: 'Black Sun' by Rebecca Roanhorse Review

Alexander Wallace feels the warmth of the sun.
I’ve never been much into the traditional Tolkienesque Middle Ages Europe-inspired fantasy that has defined the genre in the minds of the general public. I was always more into science fiction, both space opera and the ‘harder’ stuff. More recently, I have come to find fantasy based on non-European cultures to be more interesting than the endless European-inspired settings. These include R. F. Kuang’s Chinese-inspired The Poppy War, Saladin Ahmed’s Arab-inspired Throne of the Crescent Moon, and Reni K. Amayo’s African-inspired Daughters of Nri, among several others. Here, we shall discuss one of this year’s Hugo nominees for Best Novel, which takes inspiration from cultures not seen even in today’s diversified fantasy genre: the Americas before Columbus came bearing disease and death and apocalypse.

This book is Rebecca Roanhorse’s novel Black Sun, the first of the planned Between the Earth and Sky series (its sequel, Fevered Star, is scheduled to be released in April of 2022). It is set in a world drawing from a great many cultures indigenous to the Americas; the obligatory map included bears a passing resemblance to the Gulf of Mexico, including analogues of Cuba and the Yucatan.

It is a world you explore in multiple ways. You see interior areas, but much of the novel is set on the sea or on a river. It is these waterborne segments that are easily the most atmospheric. You get compelling drama and spellbinding magic in these sections, but also a chance to breathe, a literary equivalent of staring out to sea and contemplating your existence. It sounds trite, I know, but it’s enrapturing in its own way.

The plot is perhaps standard fare for the fantasy genre, involving prophecies and chosen ones and sacrifices and plenty of political intrigue. Roanhorse elevates this from the quotidian by taking a number of different plot threads and interweaving them in a way that feels like a well-designed jigsaw puzzle. The ending, while leaving room for the inevitable sequel, is an elegant intertwining of all these plot threads.

Some of those plot threads are about high-level politicking and the fate of the world and that sort of thing. The ones that really grabbed me, however, were the more intimate ones. These involve the interactions between Serapio and Xiala, my favorite characters. Serapio is a young man, blinded by his own mother, sent to perform a heroic deed in the name of people he barely knows. Xiala is the ship captain hired to bring him to his destination. The two of them bounce off each other well; Serapio’s insular intellect complements Xiala’s worldly-wise know-how like hand in glove.

Black Sun is a lot of fun. It is a perfect gift for any fantasy lover who wants something different in its backing, but all the thrills that the genre at its best provides. Plotwise, it is admittedly not the most original, but it will keep you turning the page.

The 2021 Hugo Nominees: Reviews
'Finna' by Nino Cipri
'Ring Shout' by P. Djèlí Clark
'Piranesi' by Susanna Clarke
'Upright Women Wanted' by Sarah Gailey
'Come Tumbling Down' by Seanan McGuire
'Riot Baby' by Tochi Onyebuchi
'The Empress of Salt and Fortune' by Nghi Vo

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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