“And the waters prevailed”: Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse

Only four weeks have passed since Black Mesa, and Maggie is deep in recovery mode. The first man she loved is buried in the desert and the second is avoiding her. To be fair, Maggie did try to kill him. Needing something to do, she joins Hastiin, her one-time nemesis, and his teenage cousin Ben on a monster hunt. Things go terribly awry and soon she and Ben find themselves caught in the crosshairs of the White Locust, a cult leader with mysterious powers. Whatever his plans are, they involve Kai Arviso and Caleb, the youngest Goodacre boy.

To save Dinétah, Maggie must enter the Malpais, but the Malpais may not ever let her leave. The moment she, Ben, and Rissa Goodacre step beyond the wall, they’re beset by vile and violent me who have turned the southwest into a free market hellhole. Maggie has to rescue Caleb and Kai and preventing the White Locust from killing thousands while stopping Ben from going to the dark side and keeping the peace with Rissa. And she has to do all that with petty gods, sadistic slavers, and killer bugs interfering at every turn.

In Trail of Lightning, the first book in Rebecca Roanhorse’s Sixth World series, it was Maggie standing alone against the evils of the world. She had no friends, no family, no one to help her if she was hurt, no one to miss her if she died. The only man she ever loved tried to kill her, so she drowned herself in her clan powers—Honágháahnii (“One Walks Around”) and K’aahanáanii (“Living Arrow”)—by battling the monsters of Dinétah. But by Storm of Locusts, things have shifted. Once again she’s heartbroken and lonely, but she’s no longer alone. This time around she has more companions than she knows what to do with. If the only people you’ve ever loved have abandoned you or died tragically, learning to trust again can feel like an insurmountable feat. But that’s just what she has to do if she has any hope of defeating the White Locust.

Where Maggie pushes people away, the White Locust pulls people in. He collects lost and lonely souls and surrounds himself in yes men and sycophants. Yet he’s under no illusion that his hangers on are friends. He is too self-obsessed to find value in love, familial, platonic, romantic, or otherwise. In a way, he’s an alternate future Maggie. Had she not gone through the trials of Trail of Lightning and fallen in love, she might have curdled into the same bitter and angry villain trapped behind walls of her own making. If her dislike and frustration with others had soured into resentment and disdain, if she hadn’t learned to work as a team with the Goodacres, if Kai hadn’t torn down the walls around her heart, there’s a good chance that another decade of monster-killing and being alone might have made her as wicked as the White Locust.

The Big Bad Bug isn’t the only Maggie copy running around. Ben is where Maggie was ten years before, down to her powerful but unsettling clan powers—Kena’atiinii (“Foot-trails People”), born for Bįįh Dine’é (“Deer People”). Yet the last thing Maggie wants is to become Ben’s version of Neizghání. At first she thinks that means sending Ben away or leaving her behind, but eventually she realizes it means being kind and caring. Instead of being her trainer and antagonist, Maggie can be Ben’s mentor and auntie. She may not be able to spare Ben more heartache and bloodshed, but she can comfort her and give her a home. But Maggie will have to work for it, and her fear of letting people in could ruin their fledgling relationship before it even gets going.

Storm of Locusts might be the rare sequel that’s even better than the first. Roanhorse spends as much time building out the physical world as much as she does the characters. We knew of the world beyond the turquoise walls of Dinétah from Kai’s travails in the Burque, but now Maggie, Ben, and Rissa head out into Malpais themselves. The further afield they go, the more we learn about what happened to the world in the twenty years since the Fifth World was destroyed by earthquakes, Energy Wars, and the Big Water.

It’s clear Roanhorse spent a lot of time thinking about how the west and southwest would function in the aftermath of the apocalypse, the collision between Indigenous cultural attitudes, religious fervor, and the lawless wild wild west of Hollywood myth. We don’t yet know much about the other Indigenous people who didn’t have giant walls erected around their reservations with the help of their gods, but clearly the white folks haven’t taken the collapse of society as an opportunity to be better. Colonialism and the patriarchy still have a stranglehold on white settlements, and Roanhorse isn’t shy about pointing out the hypocrisy of it all.

Rebecca Roanhorse delivers another tense tale of betrayal and revenge set against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic American southwest. Maggie Hoskie is everything I’ve ever wanted in a protagonist, and watching her grow as a person is thoroughly enjoyable. There’s nothing else quite like the Sixth World series and I never want it to end. Bring on book three!

Storm of Locusts is available from Saga Press.

Alex Brown is a high school librarian by day, local historian by night, author and writer by passion, and an ace/aro Black woman all the time. Keep up with her on Twitter and Insta, or follow along with her reading adventures on her blog.

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