Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhouse

Title: Storm of Locusts
Author: Rebecca Roanhouse
Series: The Sixth World, #2
Pages: 320
Publisher: Saga Press
Release Date: April 23rd 2019

      “It’s been four weeks since the bloody showdown at Black Mesa, and Maggie Hoskie, Diné monster hunter, is trying to make the best of things. Only her latest bounty hunt has gone sideways, she’s lost her only friend, Kai Arviso, and she’s somehow found herself responsible for a girl with a strange clan power.
      Then the Goodacre twins show up at Maggie’s door with the news that Kai and the youngest Goodacre, Caleb, have fallen in with a mysterious cult, led by a figure out of Navajo legend called the White Locust. The Goodacres are convinced that Kai’s a true believer, but Maggie suspects there’s more to Kai’s new faith than meets the eye. She vows to track down the White Locust, then rescue Kai and make things right between them.
      Her search leads her beyond the Walls of Dinétah and straight into the horrors of the Big Water world outside. With the aid of a motley collection of allies, Maggie must battle body harvesters, newborn casino gods and, ultimately, the White Locust himself. But the cult leader is nothing like she suspected, and Kai might not need rescuing after all. When the full scope of the White Locust’s plans are revealed, Maggie’s burgeoning trust in her friends, and herself, will be pushed to the breaking point, and not everyone will survive.

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“I draw my Böker and her eyes go from hate to fear. I’ve decided to let her live, but she doesn’t know that. For a moment I savor the terror I elicit, the control I have over her. It’s a dark emotion, something I’m not proud of, but it’s there nonetheless.”

Rebecca Roanhouse’s Storm of Locusts, sequel to Trial of Lightning, is a tension-filled thrill ride from start to finish. Maggie has slowly been picking up the pieces of her life. But her decision to pull the trigger on one important person to her life and bury another still occupies a great deal of space in her head. She’s been content waiting for Kai’s return, wanting to give him space, but also a little afraid of their reunion. When the Goodacre Twins show up on her doorstep with news that Kai and their little brother Caleb have gone missing, Maggie doesn’t hesitate to join them. But a new foe has risen in Dinétah, the White Locust is spreading the word of another impending apocalypse, and he has taken Kai and Caleb. Maggie and her crew journey across Dinétah and outside the Wall in search of this White Locust. When they discover what the White Locust has in store, it becomes a race to stop him before everything they love comes crumbling down.

Trail of Lightning introduced readers to Maggie Hoskie, whose clan powers made her an unstoppable force. A monsterslayer, destined to be defined by bloodshed. Faced with an impossible decision, Maggie was forced to say goodbye to the one person who was able to get past her walls. Kai helped Maggie learn how to trust and rely on someone else. In Storm of Locusts our protagonist is pushed even further out of her comfort zone. New characters like the young Ben are thrust into her path. This young teen girl has her own traumas she’s working through and Maggie becomes the one person she can count on. For Maggie this is a completely terrifying and unprecedented situation. She’s not used to being someone’s rock. She’s still learning what it means to not be a killer and now she has this girl on her hands who very much believes her purpose is to kill. Ben is a reflection of Maggie’s past self and Maggie isn’t sure she is capable of not being a killer, let alone helping someone else see there’s another way.

As much as I missed Kai’s presence for the majority of this one, I loved seeing Maggie grow and forge new and significant relationships with other people. With Ben she gains someone she can protect and teach. With Rissa Goodacre she gains a peer and a friend. Their relationship is strained from the beginning as Rissa isn’t convinced of Kai’s innocence, but with each obstacle put in their path, they begin to rely on one another more and more. There are a lot earth-shattering action scenes in this one, but the tête-à-tête between Maggie and Rissa near the end might be the most satisfying scene in this series so far. I also love that each person the crew comes across on their journey feels significant in their own way and there’s a subtle humor in so many of these scenes that made me chuckle but never distracted from the tension-filled story.

Roanhouse is masterful in the execution of both build-up and payoff. Maggie’s separation from Kai is like a lump in the throat. His absence is palpable in every scene and Roanhouse kept me turning page after page, desperate for their reunion. I particularly loved the tension leading up to Maggie’s meeting with the White Locust. From the unnatural and unrelenting swarms chasing Maggie and her crew, to his trademark crucifixions, the antagonist is a terrifying villain even before we meet him. I do wish we had a chance to meet some of his followers because to me there is nothing scarier than a charismatic and manipulative leader able to persuade a group of people into feeling grateful to give up full control of themselves.

Storm of Locusts keeps readers on their toes with a new villain, new characters, and action scenes that are as harrowing and crisp as they were in the first.

★★★★★

(5/5)

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Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhouse

Title: Trail of Lightning
Author: Rebecca Roanhouse
Series: The Sixth World, #1
Pages: 287
Publisher: Saga Press
Release Date: June 26th 2018

      “While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters.
      Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last—and best—hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much larger and more terrifying than anything she could imagine.
      Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel to the rez to unravel clues from ancient legends, trade favors with tricksters, and battle dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology.
      As Maggie discovers the truth behind the disappearances, she will have to confront her past—if she wants to survive.
      Welcome to the Sixth World.”

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“And with my need, Honágháahnii comes. Like a streak of wildfire through my veins, churning through my muscles, turning me into something more than I am without it. My eyesight sharpens. My lungs expand. And I fly, feet light, barely touching the ground.”

Rebecca Roanhouse’s Trail of Lightning is a ferocious and intoxicating fantasy novel that will keep readers on the edge of their seat from start to finish. Maggie Hoskie only knows how to do one thing well: kill monsters. Not a bad skill when you live in a world where monsters walk the land, lying in wait for their next victim. Ever since her mentor abandoned her, Maggie’s been going it alone. When a job brings her into contact with a monster whose behavior deviates greatly from the ones she’s been hunting for years, she stumbles upon a mystery. Someone is using witchcraft to create these creatures. With little to go on, Maggie must accept help from Kai Arviso, a medicine man in training whose amicable disposition is a far cry from Maggie’s often hostile personality. Their journey leads them to more questions than answers and closer to an enemy that may be impossible to kill.

Rare is the book that strikes a perfect balance between world-building and characterization, but Trail of Lightning does just that. Roanhouse’s post-apocalyptic setting sets the stage for a dangerous and unpredictable world. While much of the world outside Dinétah has been decimated, the reservation has protected itself with the Wall, meant to keep out the chaos that followed a series of environmental catastrophes. But resources inside the reservation continue to grow scarce and the Wall had no way of protecting the people from the monsters within. There are also the Diyn Dine’é, the “Holy People”, godlike beings who have once again emerged to play a role in the story of the Diné people. With the world taking new shape, many Diné have also undergone a metamorphosis. Supernatural abilities have manifested themselves in the form of clan powers. For Maggie, being part of the Honágháahnii (“one walks around) and K’aahanáanii (“living arrow”) clans, makes her unnaturally fast and an efficient killer.

Maggie has been training and hunting monsters for years, her drive is borne out of a tragic past when she lost the last person who truly cared about her. It’s easier for her not to care, to brush off the whispers behind her back, to close herself off from the world. But she is haunted by the fear that she will eventually become like the monsters she hunts and without someone to pull her back from these thoughts, it becomes a large part of who she is and affects how she navigates the world. Kai is an easy character to take a liking to. Gregarious and charming, Kai is the more efficient investigator. While Maggie is willing to spill a little blood in order to get answers, Kai tapers this instinct, showing her that reaching for her trusted Böker may not always be the best way to handle a situation. Their friendship is slow coming, but every small step forward feels like Maggie is pulled further out from the cage she has built for herself. It is through Kai’s eyes that Maggie slowly comes to realize that she can be more than the killer she was trained to be.

Roanhouse’s debut is easily my favorite book of year. Trial of Lightning captivates with its exhilarating action scenes, pulls you in with its multifaceted characters, and guts you with its epic ending. I cannot wait for more.

5/5

★★★★★

Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Title: Certain Dark Things
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Series: N/A
Pages: 323
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Release Date: October 25th 2016

      “Welcome to Mexico City… An Oasis In A Sea Of Vampires…
      Domingo, a lonely garbage-collecting street kid, is busy eking out a living when a jaded vampire on the run swoops into his life.
      Atl, the descendant of Aztec blood drinkers, must feast on the young to survive and Domingo looks especially tasty. Smart, beautiful, and dangerous, Atl needs to escape to South America, far from the rival narco-vampire clan pursuing her. Domingo is smitten.
      Her plan doesn’t include developing any real attachment to Domingo. Hell, the only living creature she loves is her trusty Doberman. Little by little, Atl finds herself warming up to the scrappy young man and his effervescent charm.
      And then there’s Ana, a cop who suddenly finds herself following a trail of corpses and winds up smack in the middle of vampire gang rivalries.
      Vampires, humans, cops, and gangsters collide in the dark streets of Mexico City. Do Atl and Domingo even stand a chance of making it out alive?”

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“The sand was red beneath her feet, and the moon had disappeared. She coughed, and this black, disgusting substance oozed from her mouth and she knelt upon the sand, a river of black bile and blood streaming out, and she tried to stop it but it would not stop. It. Just. Did not. Stop.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Certain Dark Things is a gritty, complex vampire novel with rich world-building and an interesting cast. On the run from the vampires who killed her family, Atl is a fish out of water. Despite being a sort of refugee country for vampires, Mexico’s capital has been able to stave off the bloodthirsty clans. The streets of Mexico City aren’t exactly safe, but most people would choose gangs over vampires any day. Atl is desperate to find her way to South America before the rival vampire clan that is hunting her discovers where she’s been hiding in Mexico City. Her quest brings her into contact with a street kid named Domingo, who may be the only person willing to help her, but their unlikely alliance may get them both killed.

Moreno-Garcia’s world of vampires is vibrant and intriguing. It’s worth noting that in this world vampires cannot be made, but are born and brought up in a clan. Alt is a Tlāhuihpochtli, a vampire descended from the Aztecs. Her family has a rich history in north Mexico as do many vampire clans within the country, but the more recent arrival of Necros, vampires originating from Europe, has threatened their sovereignty. One thing that really stood out to me was that Moreno-Garcia’s take on vampires is much broader than what I’m usually used to seeing. Each subspecies of vampire has unique traits and are terrifying in their own ways. Necros most closely resemble the vampires we see in popular culture, equipped with sharp teeth and repulsed by sunlight. The Tlāhuihpochtli have bird-like characteristic from talons to the ability to fly. The Revenants are another subspecies we get a closer glimpse of and it is these vampires that I found the most unnerving. Instead of feeding on blood, a Revenant sucks the life energy from its victims, both human and vampire alike.

We get a few glimpses into Atl’s past, one that’s more carefree than anything else. She enjoyed all the luxuries of belonging to a powerful family without any of the responsibilities. Her sister Izel was much more levelheaded and equipped to deal with clashes between clans, but Atl is more impetuous and it is her lack of restraint that cost her someone close to her. I really wanted to know more about Atl’s clan and family. One of the distinct characteristics of the Tlāhuihpochtli vampires is the line of matriarchal succession. Atl’s mother had been grooming her older daughter Izel to take over and I think it would have been really interesting to see this through Atl’s eyes. Domingo felt like a very lost puppy for the most part. He’s immediately drawn to Atl and has a very romantic idea about what a vampire should be. I felt a bit iffy about any kind of romantic notion between the two because Domingo came off as really young and naïve at times while Atl couldn’t afford to be ignorant about the world.

Beside focusing on Atl and Domingo, the story also gives a glimpse at those hunting the young vampire. Nick is a particular nasty character, both impulsive and entitled. Atl got the better of him and now he’s determined to make her suffer. The Necros vampire is driven by both pride and a need to prove himself. It is his human victims that put Mexico City’s gangs on his and Atl’s trail. Detective Ana Aguirre transferred to Mexico City in hopes of getting away from the vampire infestation. All she cares about is keeping her daughter safe. When a local gang reaches out to her to help rid the city of the newly arrived vampires, she reluctantly agrees.

Though a little slow getting started, Moreno-Garcia’s novel is perfect for those looking for a well-rounded vampire novel. Certain Dark Things is a delight with creatures that will make your skin crawl and a perilous undertaking that will keep you on your toes.

4/5

★★★★

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

Title: This Savage Song
Author: Victoria Schwab
Series: Monsters of Verity, #1
Pages: 464
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Release Date: July 5th 2016 

      “Kate Harker wants to be as ruthless as her father. After five years and six boarding schools, she’s finally going home to prove that she can be.
      August Flynn wants to be human. But he isn’t. He’s a monster, one that can steal souls with a song. He’s one of the three most powerful monsters in a city overrun with them. His own father’s secret weapon.
      Their city is divided.
      Their city is crumbling.
      Kate and August are the only two who see both sides, the only two who could do something.
      But how do you decide to be a hero or a villain when it’s hard to tell which is which?”

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“They swam in darkness and fed on fear, their bodies sick, distended shapes that looked human only if you caught them out of the corner of your eye. And by then, it was usually too late to run.”

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab is probably not a novel I’d typically reach for, but as the author has written one of the best fantasy series I’ve come across, I simply had to pick up this urban fantasy. I went into this novel knowing very little about it, save for the premise revolving around monsters. Schwab paints a very unique world where the violence of humankind has produced monstrous creatures that lurk in the night and feed on humans. The first half of the book is largely devoted to world-building as readers get acquainted not just with the two leads, but with the world they were brought up in. It’s a really interesting concept to picture these creatures as physical manifestations of violence: the Corsai are bred from nonfatal acts while the Malchai are born from murders, but Schwab adds another layer to these monsters by introducing someone like August, a rare Sunai, produced from an act of violence that has claim multiple lives, who is more interested in being human than monster. For Kate and for almost everyone else, the nature of monsters is very cut and dry; after all, they are products of violence and are therefore bringers of violence as well. There are some truly terrifying monsters in this novel, ones that feed off of fear and who have an insatiable appetite for human blood, but there are also human characters who are just as violent.

Kate and August have been raised by two very different men in a city divided. For Kate, Callum Harker has always been a kind of enigma. Raised largely by her mother, Kate’s father is more like an incomplete image in her head. Harker is willing to do anything to keep North City safe, he believes that he can control the monsters that rove the darkness and he benefits largely from those able pay for his protection. Much of Kate’s character arc revolves around her need to live up to this impossible standard her father has wrought. She is willing to take, threaten, and otherwise demolish anyone who stands in her way. But unlike her father, who is so sure of his right to lead, Kate sees the cracks in this world. She knows that safety is just an illusion in a city overrun with monsters, that the monsters her father offers protection against are not the only monsters in the world. When she meets August, she finds someone who sees the world like she does and who she feels she can be honest around.

August is a character who is really easy to root for. As one of the rarest kinds of monster, August’s nature is fundamentally different. He can pass as human and struggles to rein in the parts of his nature that make him feel less so. I loved that Schwab uses August as a foil to his brother Leo, another Sunai who believes in embracing his darker side, and also uses him as a contrast to many of the human characters who lack the kind of humanity he seems to have in spades. Raised by Henry Flynn, the leader of South City, August has always been treated like a son and perhaps the bond he has with his family is the reason behind his desire to be human. While Harker is very much devoted to controlling monsters, in South City Flynn believes that these monsters must be eliminated, along with the humans whose violent acts have brought them into being.

Overall, Victoria Schwab’s This Savage Song is a little slow in developing its world-building, but the latter half of the novel is quite the thrill ride, with its final pages giving me an insatiable craving for more.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★