REVIEW: Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse
Dear Rebecca Roanhorse,
I purchased Storm of Locusts, the second book in your post-apocalyptic Sixth World series featuring monster hunter Maggie Hoskie, because I liked your debut novel and Storm of Locusts prequel, Trail of Lightning. I was also interested because the series is #ownvoices. As an indigenous author, you bring a fresh perspective to your novels and especially to their worldbuilding aspect. However, this one didn’t work for me and at 54% I am quitting.
The book begins with a failed attempt to rescue a clan elder from a cult-like group and its leader, a man named the White Locust. Hastiin, who leads the thirsty boys, a group of motorcyclists, had befriended Maggie since the previous book and he asks for her assistance in the rescue. Not only do Maggie and the thirsty boys fail to rescue the clan leader, Hastiin dies in the attempt. But not before asking Maggie to watch out for his teenage niece, Ben, if anything happens to him.
So Maggie is responsible for Ben. And when Goodacre twins Clive and Rissa show up at Maggie’s house to ask for Maggie’s assistance in retrieving Caleb, their younger brother, from the White Locust and his cult, Ben insists on coming with them. Reluctantly, Maggie agrees because Ben has a clan power that makes her a superb tracker.
The previous book has left Kai, Maggie’s love interest, justifiably estranged from her, and Maggie fears that he will never forgive her for her past actions. Now Kai has joined up with the cult of the White Locust, and Rissa suspects him of kidnapping Caleb and harming him. Maggie, on the other hand, trusts that Kai had good motives for joining the cult.
Before they can begin to track Caleb, Maggie and her compatriots are attacked by a swarm of supernatural, creepy locusts. They escape on their motorcycles and decide to head outside the reservation, to the dangerous, post-apocalyptic landscape that was half-drowned by the “Big Water,” the event that broke down the United States.
Before they leave, Mosi, the cat goddess, whom Maggie doesn’t trust as far as she can throw, strikes a bargain with Maggie—she will provide a helpful map of the outside world if they accompany her for a journey of her own on the way there.
Upon reaching the reservation’s wall, the group discover a newly-winged Caleb pinned to the wall. Miraculously, Caleb is alive but when he tells them that Kai assisted in the surgery to graft his wings, Rissa is more certain than ever that Kai has betrayed them to the White Locust. Maggie still trusts Kai and believes that he had a good motive.
Clive stays behind with Caleb and the four female characters (Maggie, Rissa, Mosi and Ben) travel on to try to find the cult leader.
On their way to that confrontation Maggie, Rissa and Ben are separated from Mosi and kidnapped by a group of scary strangers.
I liked the way the book started; it was action-filled, fast-paced and exciting. But the middle sagged as the pace slowed down. And since the mid-book kidnapping of Ben, Rissa and Maggie had nothing to do with the main plot thread about the White Locust, the book felt episodic rather than cohesive. The characters also drew wrong conclusions and made self-defeating decisions for much of the first half.
I did not understand, for example, why Rissa continued to accompany Maggie, Ben and Mosi after Caleb’s rescue. I don’t think her motive was given.
Just before they leave the reservation, Maggie sees nothing but darkness beyond the wall surrounding it, even though there’s late afternoon / early evening daylight on her side of the gate.
“I step forward into what feels like a solid wall of black beyond the Dinetah border,” she narrates. It’s so dark that she asks Mosi, the cat goddess, to use her preternatural eyesight and tell her what she sees. Mosi replies cryptically. But as the group leaves the reservation, Maggie states that “the darkness Mósí and I saw through the gate turns out to be more of an accident of the Wall’s height throwing shadows into the canyon.”
I tried to visualize this but couldn’t. Maggie, despite having exceptional eyesight, can’t distinguish between a solid wall of blackness and natural late afternoon / early evening shadow seen through an open gate?
Early on in the book, the characters are chased by hundreds, maybe even thousands of supernatural locusts. But later, as they are riding toward the locust cult’s camp, they are attacked by an airplane. One of Maggie’s thoughts about that is, “Of all the things we considered, an assault from the air was not one of them.” After a locust attack, and when they intend to defeat the locust leader?
Then we get this: “And when the plane is so close that I can see the pilot briefly illuminated in Rissa’s headlight—a hunched figure in a leather aviator cap and goggles.” In response to this, Maggie (with Ben sitting behind her) and Rissa ride their bikes toward into a crevice in the canyon wall knowing that it may be a trap.
Why not shoot or hurl a knife at the pilot instead? Maggie is a monster hunter, and killing is her strong suit. She’s armed in this scene, and wherever she’s in danger, her clan powers come to her aid and her aim and speed are heightened. Yes, she is trying not to kill because of a promise to Kai. But she’s responsible for Ben’s safety. And she could make an attempt to injure or maim the pilot, for that matter. None of that happens here. Maggie allows the group to be herded into the trap instead.
Then there’s another inexplicable moment, this time involving Rissa when she and Maggie are on motorcycles and heading into danger. Here’s an outtake from the scene:
I wrench the bike right, barreling off the road and onto the rocky terrain. Bounce hard and come down, teeth rattling. Ben’s arms crush my ribs so hard I can’t breathe. I hear Rissa’s wheels hit dirt behind me and we haul ass for the crevice. The plane buzzes past, the wind from its passing pushing against my back.
We hit the canyon at full speed, walls closing around us immediately.
But…Rissa’s motorcycle has a sidecar attached. So how can her bike sustain that hard bounce?
I described my frustration with the eye-rolling moments in in the book to a friend and she said “It sounds like it made you swallow a lot of hedgehogs tail first.” I loved that expression and yes, it did.
Another reason I quit this book is the creepiness. We’ve got locusts attacks, a teenage boy with wings grafted onto his back.
The setting of this book is also alienating. I think it’s meant to be—the world here reminds me of the one in the most recent Mad Max movie, and I’m one of the few who didn’t care for that film. So that took away from my enjoyment, too.
Trail of Lightning had some warmth to it, but in Storm of Locusts two of the three female characters Maggie is traveling with dislike her and she doesn’t trust them, so there isn’t much camaraderie, something that could have helped alleviate the grim darkness. And since the heroine’s love interest didn’t appear on the page, there wasn’t much romance in the 54% I read, either. DNF.