I’m sorry. Many people love Black Sun. I understand its appeal. But Black Sun is chock FULL of storytelling problems. The glory of that first chapter cannot compensate for the 95% of the time I spent bored, frustrated, and annoyed.
Ritual scarification; ritual blinding; suicide; child abuse and neglect; societal homophobia; parental death.
– Confident writing style
– Excellent opening chapter
– Bisexual main character
– Blind main character
– Numerous queer characters
– Indigenous rep
– Lack of focus in scenes
– Lack of focus in plot
– Stagnant and underdeveloped characters
– Useless characters
– Plot stagnates after introduction
– Time wasted rehashing past chapters
“A single Obregi man,” he said lightly. “Blinded. Scarred. Some kind of religious affliction, as I understand it. Harmless.” The last he said too quickly, as if he was hiding something.
“Usually,” Xiala said carefully, “when someone describes a man as harmless, he ends up being a villain.”
Writing Style—★★★★☆ (3.5 Stars)
Themes and Representation—★★★☆☆
(Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Canada for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review!)
(And I’m sorry I’m about to make you regret it 😅 )
And I FINALLY finished Black Sun at the end of 2021.
I’m sorry. Many people love Black Sun. I understand its appeal: solid concept, indigenous author, Central and South American indigenous rep, a blind protagonist, multiple examples of queer rep, and BANGIN opening chapter.
I was hopeful. I mean, I truly loved the first chapter! Dark, a little messed up, sets the tone. I really wanted to like the rest of the book.
But UGH. Black Sun is chock FULL of storytelling problems. The glory of that first chapter cannot compensate for the 95% of the time I spent bored, frustrated, and annoyed.
First, the positive: Roanhorse has a confident, competent writing style. She has some mild issues with filter words, but nothing unusual. As I said above, there’s lots of rep, particularly indigenous and queer rep, including a queernorm country, and a number of non-binary and trans supporting cast. The core concept and setting? Very cool. Very full of potential.
But… gosh. The flaws. These issues turned a novel with a good premise and exciting world into a dull, embarrassing novel: ZERO conflict, characters and plot that stagnate early, half-assed POV characters, underdeveloped setting, LIMP political elements, weak sense of direction, and pages full of useless crap.
Now, I can’t get into all of them or I’d go insane, but here’s the rundown on a few:
Roanhorse speedruns our intro to the setting and then doesn’t develop or deepen it after. What we learn is through poorly disguised infodumps, padded with useless info, and given in an unintuitive order.
The lack of focus—both in individual scenes and with the overall story—drives me crazy. What sort of book is this SUPPOSED to be? Political fantasy? Sure, politics play a key element, but all of the political scenes are half-assed or off the page entirely. Romance? Technically, Black Sun behaves closest to a romance. (A tepid one, mind you.) Nara spends more time mooning over her ex-lover than contributing to the plot. Serapio and Xiala’s shared section IS a romance, but they have two meaningful scenes together over a period of ~3 weeks, and they aren’t particularly convincing scenes.
Two out of the four POV characters add nothing. Okoa’s had a singular useful chapter—his last in the book. Any info we learn from his POV we could’ve learned elsewhere. While Nara gives us access to the ongoings of the priesthood, she has NO character arc and never advances the plot. Xiala is replaceable. Roanhorse could cut+paste another character over Xiala and we’d never know. She could cut her POV entirely; anything we gain from her POV we could learn from Serapio’s POV instead. Serapio is the most developed character, and the ONLY one with any genuine convictions. The only good chapter is his first chapter: it is A+, topshelf shit. But he has the same problem as the others: Roanhorse never once challenges them, their beliefs, or abilities.
But Black Sun’s biggest, ugliest flaw?
It’s full of useless crap.
Listen: If you’re not actively and efficiently driving the story forward; if you’re not at the VERY LEAST entertaining us, then you’re wasting readers’ time. Roanhorse is CONSTANTLY stating the obvious, rehashing recent scenes, padding with useless details, writing weak scenes to pull off a single element and overall filling the pages with content that is neither useful nor carries its narrative weight. Instead, I read tons of useless shit. In a chapter where Nara’s political enemy outmanoeuvres her—even using “outmanoeuvre” greatly exaggerates what happens—Roanhorse spends an entire ⅓ of it ruminating on the decor.
Black Sun is a book I should’ve loved—it’s a book with all the elements in place to be great. But Roanhorse neglects those elements, and instead Black Sun is critically bloated and chronically underwhelming.
Overall—★★★☆☆ (2.5 Stars)
Readers looking for SFF by indigenous authors; readers looking for inspiration from oft disregarded settings and cultures; readers looking for queernorm settings.
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