The first book of what looks to be an engaging and epic series, Black Sun sets up a universe in what the book description says is ‘inspired by the civilizations of the Pre-Columbian Americas.’ In this new universe, regional borders and distinctive communities, cultural practices, and their relationships with one another are tied to both external and internal politics. Rebecca Roanhorse, author of Black Sun, has done a compelling job of setting up a plot where each of the components lend themselves to breathing deeper life into a well-calculated Chosen One story.
Who is the Chosen One in Black Sun? This distinction would go to one of the four point-of-view characters, Serapio. Serapio has a childhood colored by his mother’s strategic fanaticism and her physical abuse of him, which leads to his paternal neglect punctuated by the strict teachings of three lethal teachers. Serapio grows into adulthood a sheltered, lonely person driven singularly for vengeance carried on by his commitment to the path his mother gave birth to him in order to achieve. The more interesting parts of this story picks up as Serapio’s life connects with one of the other point-of-view characters, Xiala, a Teek captain with no real ship or crew who hopes to redeem her purpose in life after several personal and professional failures. She takes on the commission to get Serapio to the holy city of Tova shortly before the solstice hoping to regain some dignity and without any knowledge of who Serapio is and what he means to the Crow people he’s set to seek vengeance for. By learning more about each other and their hardships, we see Serapio and Xiala examine and rethink their values and goals without truly wavering from who they are.
The other two point-of-view characters lead more politically complex lives as one is the male heir of the matrilineal Crow line, Okoa, who has stayed away from the intrigues of court by remaining in military school, only to return to chaos and inter-community turmoil after family duties bring him back home. When he returns home he runs into Naranpa, a Sun Priest who grapples hard with maintaining and growing her political power, and whose intentions seem different than those who held the position before her. This is particularly intriguing to Okoa, as one of the former Sun Priests called for the genocide of the Crows not long ago, something the Crow community continues to smart from. For Naranpa, our final point-of-view character, having her ambitions realized is practically impossible. Because she comes from the Dry Earth community of Tova, which is heavily derided by the Sky people who rule the city, her peers within the priesthood are not shy about voicing their destain for her and her efforts, even working behind her back to detract from any of the relationships she builds with the high houses. Between the actions of Okoa and Naranpa, as well as the people who surround them, we see the fallibility of chosen naïveté and inability to recognize people for who they are, working to their later turmoil and endangerment.
From the powerful abilities displayed by Serapio and Xiala to intricacies of navigating nobility and high priesthood embodied by Okoa’s and Naranpa’s journeys, Black Sun is a read full of calculated intrigue, strong character development, well-developed worldbuilding, and a liveliness that makes this adult fantasy a page-turner.