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Book Review: Prophecies, magic, and the end of the world galore in “Black Sun”

Rejoice, fantasy fans! For many years, the fantasy genre has been overly saturated with medieval European-inspired worlds. Rebecca Roanhorse's 2020 epic fantasy "Black Sun" is the refreshing epic we've been begging for.

Inspired by the pre-Columbian civilizations of the Americas, four lives converge on a solar eclipse in the holy city of Tova for the unbalancing of the world. Their journeys to the day of Convergence are rife with political clashes, storms, ancient prophecies, and the unimaginable powers some of our protagonists are blessed–and cursed with.

The story bounces back and forth between our four protagonists: Naranpa, the sun priest from humble and dark beginnings; Xiala, a disgraced sea captain with a legendary power; Okoa, a warrior prince and guardsman; and Serapio, the blinded man born to upend the world.

Trying to avoid a prison sentence, Xiala takes a job transporting Serapio to Tova with plenty of complications and revelations during their 20-day trip. In Tova, Naranpa faces the repercussions of her Sun Priest appointment and the mass murder of the Carrion Crow clan centuries ago. Okoa returns to the city after the unexpected death of the Carrion Crow matron–also his mother–and is drawn into a cult awaiting the return of their vengeful, patron god.

Right off the bat, the sheer amount of world-building in "Black Sun" is immense and wondrous. With an amalgamation of Central and South American cultures and a dash of Polynesian, the world of Meridian rivals the European-inspired medieval worlds that are popular as of late. Folklore from these cultures is woven into the foundation of the world. It doesn't bog down the fast-paced plot–instead of bolstering the novel into skyscraper heights. Drawing from these distinct cultures could have made for confusing world-building, but Roanhorse expertly smashes them together to create a world unlike any other.

Our memorable cast of characters doesn't adhere to the good versus evil rules. Each character brings their own morally grey perspective and nuanced motivations to the convergence. Serapio's followers firmly believe their savior will punish the priests for their crimes against humanity. Still, he isn't the pure savior they've been waiting for. As much as he loves his people, Serapio's wrath is gruesome and ruthless–for he's been training for this day since he was 12-years-old. He may be the Chosen One, but his cleansing requires the death of dozens. This characterization is a complex retelling of the Chosen One trope and is a spectacularly nuanced role. Everyone thinks they're the good guy, but as we know, most characters aren't the shining knights we've disillusioned ourselves into believing.

Additionally, the queerness of several characters isn't made a spectacle but simply accepted and flows effortlessly with the story. There are even non-binary characters who use neo-pronouns!

Although there isn't enough room for each character to grow, they aren't meant to in this first novel. The ensemble will have plenty of time to grow with the rest of the series, and the anticipation of these changes is far more enjoyable to observe.

For the last few years, the epic fantasy genre has been overwhelmed with British/European-inspired worlds that seem to be the same recycled plots and characters. With the arrival of Roanhorse's "Black Sun," we're seeing a new age of truly diverse and original fantasies that feel like a breath of fresh air–sans the shallow attempts at diversity. With its cliff-hanging ending, there's no doubt that I'll be picking up the sequel "Fevered Star" in 2022.

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