Black Sun: Between Earth & Sky #1

Book Reviews / Sunday, January 3rd, 2021

By: Rebecca Roanhorse
Publisher: Saga Press
Genre: Epic Fantasy

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“There was magic in the world, pure and simple, things she didn’t understand.
Best get used to it.” Rebecca Roanhorse, Black Sun

Black Sun is an original, beautiful, and sometimes gritty epic fantasy. The cover art is gorgeous. It draws upon the gods and culture of pre-Columbian America. It was refreshing to read a fantasy that did not feel like it was a derivative of Medieval Europe. Black Sun adds much needed diversity into the fantasy genre. The world building was on par with the best of any epic fantasy I have read. The world of Meridian was so vividly brought to life. I absolutely loved the difference in reading about this world and what I see as almost “traditional” world building. It was a treat for the senses with color, magic, and incredible characters all woven seamlessly into Ms. Roanhorse’s story.

I was drawn in from the first page. Rebecca Roanhorse weaves an epic tale of gods, magic and characters that are driven by a destiny to one moment in time. The characters and their story arcs are nothing short of genius. They evolve over the course of the book, which is what good character writing is about, and I cared about what would happen to them. I loved Black Sun and eagerly await the sequel.

The World of Black Sun

Black Sun is set in the world of Meridian, with different cities and peoples. The story is unique in it’s setting of the pre-Columbian world. The description of the clothing, culture and the cities are as detailed as they are essential to the story.

Ms. Roanhorse describes clothing of skirts, dresses, and elaborate jewelry. Some are brightly colored and jewelry is often turquoise or jade. There are elaborate headdresses made from bird feathers of the jungles, birds you would find in South America (the quetzal and macaws for example). Priests wear masks of gold and beautifully colored robes. There are men and women with pierced ears, noses and sometimes lips, indicative of the culture she has set the story in.

There is magic which flows seamlessly into the narrative. It is unusual how it manifests and not all characters possess and use magic. In fact, most do not.

I loved the non-traditional setting. It brought to life a culture rarely seen in epic fantasy. It was easy to feel part of the story with her beautifully detailed descriptions.

The Characters

The story centers around Serapio. We meet him as a 12-year boy, and learn more about his life through flashback chapters. These chapters flowed well into the story and give us insight into his character. It is imperative that he get to the city of Tova by the convergence. Tova is where the Priests and various clans live. Serapio has a destiny to fulfill, one which he knew since he was 12. While his life growing up was difficult, he appears calm and intuitive as an adult. Serapio knows what he must do and knows the sacrifice he must make. Serapio was raised in solitude, with tutors who taught him various skills. He has use of powerful magic, which is all part of his destiny, a magic that comes from within him. Having been raised in solitude, he is naturally unaware of basic human emotion like laughter, joy and love. I found Serapio to be a very well-rounded character. He is gentle and reflective, while hiding who he truly is.

Xiala, a strong female character, is the ship’s captain who is charged with taking Serapio to Tova. She is a character that does use magic and has a mysterious background. We know how she uses her magic, but we only get glimpses of her past. As she comes to know Serapio during the journey to Tova, they develop a bond and she comes to care deeply for him. Xiala’s mysterious background, her unusual ability with magic, her tough exterior that belies pain we have yet to know, makes her another well-rounded character. She is clearly troubled and through this she and Serapio connect, through shared pain.

Finally, the third most important character is Naranda. She is the Sun Priest who will perform the convergence ceremony. She is the highest-ranking priest and person in Tova. Naranda is naive. She was anointed the Sun Priest and was not a popular choice. She came from the clanless people, but was educated from a young age to be a priest. As she ascends to the Sun Priest, she wants reformation and change. Naranda feels the priests need to be seem among the people, minister to them and be of more help. It this naiveté that will ultimately make her enemies.  

There are many other characters, of course. They are all woven together into this unique and beautiful epic fantasy. I am sure we will be seeing more of them in future installments of the series.

Overall Thoughts

Black Sun was an excellent read. The fantasy aspect is beautifully told and, as mentioned previously, unique it its pre-Columbian focus. The pace was even, but never parts where I felt nothing was happening to advance the plot. There are some brutal scenes, but they add to the story and are in no way gratuitous. The characters are unique and memorable. Rebecca Roanhorse is an amazing story teller and I highly recommend Black Sun. I am looking forward to the next book in the series.

Plot Summary (from Goodreads)
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.

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