• The Good: There’s so much awesome here, including vocal magic, paying in cacao, training by a spear maiden, gods inhabiting mortals, and flying on the backs of giant crows
  • The Bad: Abrupt ending and I can’t wait for more
  • The Literary: A whole new genre of epic fantasy based on the Pre-Columbian Americas!

This year’s winter solstice is more special than most in the holy city of Tova, as it coincides with a solar eclipse. The Sun Priest warns  that the prophecies speak of an unbalancing of the world. Tourists and pilgrims alike travel to Tova for the celestial event, including Xiala, the captain of a ship paid by a strange nobleman to deliver her one passenger to Tova on time for the eclipse. Xiala’s crew is wary of the young blind scarred man, but they are also wary of their captain Xiala, a female and a Teek, whose magic can calm the waters and drive men insane.

I love this epic fantasy based on the culture and myths of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas and Polynesia, particularly the world-building. The advanced architecture, agriculture, astronomy, and sea travel and navigation seem downright modern, at least compared to traditional European fantasy technology. Those seemingly familiar modern elements contrast against an unfamiliar government of four high priests of the Celestial Tower and the four matriarchal clans of Tova, and the system is ripe with political intrigue, mistrust, and usurping. And although I am unfamiliar with a commerce system based entirely on cacao, it doesn’t really seem that far-fetched. Then there’s the gods. Some dead, some alive. The sun god in power, and the crow god seeking his revenge.

It’s not just the new well of potential of world-building that fascinates me, Black Sun features multiple characters of interest, and two of the four protagonists really shine. Xiala, the ship captain, is disgraced in her homeland and lives in a culture that doesn’t understand and often mistrusts her kind. She’s either on a ship or drunk in a tavern, and though protective of her people and her heritage and her magic, she has no idea how deep her power goes. Although Xiala can read most people, her passenger is a mystery. Serapio has a magic all his own, and he understands the depth of his power, but refuses to share with Xiala, even as their strange friendship blossoms. The reader has the advantage of getting to know Serapio in chapters that flashback to his childhood and his training. Back in Tova, you’ll get to know Naranpa, the Sun Priest, a young woman newly appointed to her position by her deceased mentor, who wants the sky-made priests to become more accessible to the common people. Most don’t agree that she has the pedigree to have risen to her current station, having grown up in the depths of the rough city below. Finally, Okoa is the son of the recently deceased matriarch of Crow Clan and leader of her army, recently returning home to Tova after years of training abroad.

Each of these protagonists is powerful in their own ways, whether through birth, or station, or training, or inherent magic or some combination thereof. But none are powerful enough to erase their past, escape their generational trauma, or feel as though they have control of their destiny, and you’ll root for all of them. Instead of fantasy that pits good against evil, you’re not sure who among them is the villain. On a more modern note, the characters are diverse. The gender inclusive (bisexual protagonist, two characters with gender neutral pronouns) and differently-abled (blind) protagonists read as real people and feel appropriate for this fantasy civilization.

All I’m saying is read the first chapter of the book. It’s dark and macabre and visceral and (trigger warning) contains violence towards children, but it hooks! And while this first book in the Between Earth and Sky series will leave you itching for the next volume, if you love the idea of dead gods, giant beasts, and mermaid sirens in a fantasy based on the indigenous Americas, then this book is for you!

Thanks to Netgalley, Gallery Books, and Saga Press for an advance copy!