The US got this one last year, but now, thanks to the good folk at Solaris, Rebecca Roanhorse’s epic trilogy opener Black Sun is making its way to the UK. This fair and unbiased review was conducted with gratitude for the free electronic copy of the book which I received from the publisher.
This review contains an affiliate link to Waterstones, which will earn me a commission if used, at no extra cost to you.
If this review was to be summed up in only one word, it would be “Refreshing.” Because that’s unquestionably what Black Sun is, first and foremost. There’s a common misconception that fantasy writing is nothing but dragons, magic swords and a distinctly medieval European aesthetic, and whilst this certainly isn’t completely true, there’s no smoke without fire. That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of books that hew closely to these ideas whilst still being excellent, but it is nice to get something completely different. Good news, then – Black Sun is certainly that.
What really makes Black Sun stand apart from its contemporaries is its setting. Inspired by the pre-Columbian culture of the Americas, Roanhorse has stuffed the vividly described world of the Meridian continent with a plethora of traditions, religious observances, cultural references and even fashions, all of which combine to make the setting wholly unique. Covering everything from currency, to leisure time activities, to worship and more besides – all of which are seamlessly woven into the story rather than being exhaustively explained – Roanhorse manages to make her world feel fresh, exciting, and fully realised. Reading Black Sun is a rewarding journey of discovery in itself, even without the compelling plot.
That plot kicks off in fine style too. Serapio, one of the four main characters, is being prepared for a dark and terrible future, the process making the first chapter a dark little gem of an opener – expect to wince more than a few times. Things brighten up soon after with the introduction of our second main character though – Xiala is a sailor, almost stereotypically colourful with her language and unrestrained sexual appetite, with her Teek heritage giving her the power to calm the waves and force men to do her bidding. She’s tasked with transporting Serapio to the holy city of Tova in time for the Convergence (an astrological event which each chapter counts down towards). Meanwhile, Naranpa – the incumbent Sun Priest of the Celestial Tower in Tova – deals with rivals and rumours as the Convergence approaches, fighting to retain her position and maintain balance for the sake of the city. For whilst the powerful Sky Made clans scattered around the tower are theoretically its allies, the secretive members of Carrion Crow nurse old wounds – wounds which cut even deeper than their ritual scarification.
Whilst there is certainly plenty going on here, it never feels unwieldy. Flashback chapters which show more of Serapio training for his dark destiny let us see how he became the man he is today, as well as foreshadowing some of his more powerful abilities. These chapters also help give the story an even more epic feel without having to go through the entirety of Serapio’s life, but the pace never slacks off for too long; that “Convergence countdown timer” that begins every chapter ensures that. It gives everything such momentum and propels the plot forwards irresistibly, and by throwing in a chapter which gives us a glimpse of the ending early on, Roanhorse keeps us guessing throughout as to how everything fits together. With so many of the characters working at cross purposes to one another too, you can expect to feel very conflicted as the ending approaches.
Black Sun boasts a world unlike so much of what you might be used to, and it’s a world which just begs to be explored. It feels vital, technicoloured and alive, chock full of interesting characters with their own stories to tell and a rich history behind it all. Part two can’t come soon enough.
Black Sun is published in the UK by Solaris, and is out on the 21st of January. You can order your copy through this affiliate link.