by Rebecca Roanhorse
Series: Between Earth and Sky #1
Publisher: Saga Press
Publication Date: October 13, 2020
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
From the New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Resistance Reborn comes the first book in the Between Earth and Sky trilogy, inspired by the civilizations of the Pre-Columbian Americas and woven into a tale of celestial prophecies, political intrigue, and forbidden magic.
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.
Crafted with unforgettable characters, Rebecca Roanhorse has created an epic adventure exploring the decadence of power amidst the weight of history and the struggle of individuals swimming against the confines of society and their broken pasts in the most original series debut of the decade.
I’ve read Rebecca Roanhorse’s work before, so I thought I knew what I was getting myself in to. But, wow, was I ever surprised – in the best way! This is an enthralling character-driven epic fantasy inspired by Meso-American cultures. And, just a note, this is the start of a trilogy, so of course there’s a massive cliffhanger.
“Now, tell me who I’m taking to Tova,” she said.
“A single Obregi man,” he said lightly. “Blinded. Scarred. Some kind of religious affliction, as I understand it. Harmless.” The last he said too quickly, as if he was hiding something.
“Usually,” Xiala said carefully, “when someone describes a man as harmless, he ends up being a villain.
The book starts slowly as we’re introduced to each of the three main POV characters: Serapio, a noble’s son and the inheritor of a prophecy; Naranpa, the sun priestess in Tova; and Xiala, the Teek captain of the ship hired to bring Serapio to Tova. The story is told mostly linearly as a countdown to the Convergence, when the sun, moon and earth will align and cause an eclipse, what the Teek call a black sun. There are a few flashbacks to Serapio’s past that help explain why, exactly, it’s so imperative that he arrive in Tova before the Convergence. Of all the characters, Naranpa was my least favorite, not because of her idealism – though she made me feel extremely old and cynical at times – but because so much of her storyline involved the political machinations around her. Watching everyone discount her because of her age and that idealism was infuriating, and seeing how much it hurt her when her ex-lover Iktan did that as well was even worse. Xiala was my favorite: brash, brave, and a bit foolhardy, but ultimately kind. She loves the sea – for very good reasons – and loves being captain of her own ship, even though it means dealing with superstitious and sometimes downright hostile crew. Serapio was a close second, also for very good reasons.
“Definitely a man but perhaps a bit of monster, too? The same could be said of her. And did it matter at all, these labels and categories, when it was just the two of them here, together?”
There’s a romantic subplot between Xiala and Serapio which was just *chef’s kiss* for its pining, star-crossedness brilliance. For all their superficial differences, they’re two sides of the same coin. They’re both monsters, according to most people, and they’re both separated from their homelands for complicated reasons that revolve around their difficult relations with family, and sometimes the very idea of family. Serapio has been raised to understand his place and what he’s been prepared for, and there’s no room there for love. Xiala has her own reasons for avoiding anything more serious than a temporary fling, but it doesn’t take long before she’s noticed the similarities between them. She also knows there’s a hundred reasons why there can’t be anything between them (and Serapio has about a hundred more) but their relationship progresses so slowly that it sneaks up on them both.
“The crow god a god of justice?” The old priest scoffed. “I’ve not heard that before.”
“Vengeance, then. But what is vengeance if not justice?”
“Vengeance can be for spite. It can eat you up inside, take from you everything that makes you happy, makes you human. Look at what it did to your mother. Would justice do that?”
While I did find the slow pacing challenging at times, where this book really excels is how each facet of the story is revealed. While there are several action-packed scenes, they’re broken up with longer chunks spent building up the characters and world. It’s the slower scenes – a quiet revelation of betrayal, the realization of similarity in someone completely different – that hit hardest and move the story to its inevitable conclusion. It’s a story of righting wrongs, of vengeance and atonement for atrocities that occurred before the main characters were even born. There’s really only one way that can end, isn’t there?
“There is no home for us between earth and sky.”
Overall, this was an excellent start to a new series, and I’m already bemoaning the fact that there’s no release date yet for the second book. Highly recommended to anyone who enjoys character-driven fantasy!