Between Earth and Sky Trilogy
by Rebecca Roanhorse
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted September 14, 2020
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Black Sun is the first in a projected trilogy with the collective title of Between Earth and Sky. It will be published in one month, October 13, but I received an advance ebook from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. No word yet on a title for the second book, nor when to expect it, but I'll add that info to this page when that time comes. My opinion changed several times while reading; it was slow to win me over, then the world-building and character development came together. There are several tense scenes, horrific even, and I anticipated a dramatic ending. Dramatic it was, but also frustrating. The following comment is not just for this book: I wish there were more stand-alone novels. I realize I'm likely to say something to contradict this at another time, especially since I'm anticipating a continuation of Roanhorse's Sixth World series. It's possible the sequel to this book will shift to different locations, incorporating other characters and cultures, and I'm sure I will read it.
In some ways this is an historical fantasy, but not based on anything specific, rather it is inspired or suggested by several Pre-Columbian cultures. There are towns and peoples reflective of the Mayans, as well as those that may be patterned after the Hohokam or Anasazi, since they live in cliff dwellings. The geography is different, yet similar enough to the lands around the Gulf of Mexico, which you can see in maps here. Those maps were not included in the ARC, but I assume they will be in the finished book. Again, those cultures may be the inspiration, but the story of the political and military systems, the gods and magic, are fictional. I'm not familiar with myths from this area, so it's possible Roanhorse added an element from a completely different source. One of the characters is a Teek, described in such a way as to suggest a mermaid, and/or siren. Manatees are mentioned as being their spiritual siblings. Other differences from the real world are crows large enough to carry human riders, as well as "Water Strider" insects almost as large. There is magic, although it is known and practiced by very few.
The narrative is all third-person from the perspectives of several different characters, and there is an alteration of the time frame between most of the chapters. All are dated in relation to the "Convergence," a celestial and religious event that will occur when the Winter Solstice corresponds to a solar eclipse. The first chapter introduces Serapio ten years before Convergence. He is twelve years old when his mother tells him he is destined to be a god. She forces him to stare into the sun, which blinds him, then she sews his eyelids shut. Later chapters show him being tutored by three different people, preparing him for the ordeal ahead. Other chapters are set in Tova, home of the Sun Priest Naranpa, who will preside over the Convergence ceremony, as well as those that follow the journey of Xiala, a Teek sailor hired to bring Serapio to Tova across the Crescent Sea. In Tova there is infighting among the various clans, as well as between the different priests within the tower on Sun Rock.
[SPOILERS AHEAD] skip if you want: There are cliffhangers as to the fate of at least two characters. It seems the prophecies were mistaken, or misunderstood by everyone, because if they were true one of those people would be dead. They had expected to die and had accepted their fate. Then again, if they had died they could hardly have been considered a god.[END SPOILERS]
I liked it, and can recommend it, but as I said above the ending frustrated me. I'm interested in finding out why all the other priests were aligned against Naranpa. She had been chosen by her predecessor, but the reforms she was working toward, and the objections from the others, were only vaguely explained. It was fortunate that she had been removed from her position before Serapio arrived in Tova. Will she be able to regain it? Will she want to? Lots of loose threads, but I'm sure Roanhorse is up to the challenge.
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