If I ever teach a course on writing a fantasy novel, I’m going to start with Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse. Black Sun’s world is new and unique, taking inspiration from histories and cultures that are painfully underrepresented in fantasy, and yet it’s completely approachable. The book is over four hundred pages and yet it flies by. Black Sun is a work of discipline. No word is ever wasted, Roanhorse doesn’t even use a ‘she said’ at the end of dialogue unless absolutely necessary. It’s just so—impressive.
Black Sun takes place in the Meridian, a world with its inspiration rooted in pre-Columbian Americas. It’s a rich, complex place with painful history, diverse myths, cultures and a whole lot of bubbling tension and yet the book is lacking anything approaching an info dump. I never felt like Roanhorse slowed down and laid it out for me and yet, I was never confused or felt like I was missing something. It’s a touch that is light, yet deep. The book’s world merges with the story and just keeps moving.
And this book moves, of its many strengths pacing might be Black Sun’s strongest. I can see a younger Matt finishing this book off in a day or two. It’s chapters are quick, sliding from scene to scene, but not overwhelming. It still takes time to build its characters and deepen its conspiracies, but no chapter feels like filler, nothing switched on my editor brain, I was in the novel’s flow every time I picked it up.
The story at Black Sun’s core is simple, cutting between Serapio and Xiala’s journey to the city of Tova and Sun Priest Naranpa’s struggles in Tova trying to keep the metropolis together and order in the ranks of the Watchers. Xiala was my favorite character. She’s somehow both a roguish captain, drinking and sleeping her way through the Meridian and yet, the most practical person in the book. Naranpa was painfully relatable and her chapters were where the most intrigue happened and Serapio…well, the less I give away about Serapio the best.
I will say that Serapio is another triumph. His visage is striking, and a lot of writers would make him into some unstoppable badass, heightening his frightening elements and mystery. Roanhorse though, does a lot with the character and makes one of the most human mystery boxes I’ve bumped into. Whatever else Serapio might be, he’s always a person first.
I will say for all of my love of Black Sun if felt like a first step rather than a complete novel. This too though, feels like an act of discipline on Roanhorse’s part as the book is the first in a planned trilogy. It’s a firm first step that does a solid job of setting up it’s world, it’s characters and it’s conflict. It hits it’s climax like it says it will and then ends in a moment that felt sweet and right and left me eager for more.