Book Review: Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Series: Book 1 of The Shadow
Publisher: Orbit (10/27/15)
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Wake of Vultures has all the qualities of a great book. First, it features a standout protagonist, an undaunted misfit heroine who against all odds rises to meet the biggest challenge of her life. Second, we have an action-filled plot full of wildly imaginative ideas and exciting new twists–in other words, a genuinely entertaining story. Third, I enjoyed its poignant messages of self-discovery and independence, of seizing control of one’s destiny by fighting back against society’s expectations. None of these points would be enough by themselves, but this new coming-of-age tale by Lila Bowen (AKA Delilah S. Dawson) exemplifies all three.
Meet Nettie Lonesome, a mixed-race young woman who was found orphaned as a child and raised by a couple who treated her more like a slave. She has never felt accepted anywhere, though she has found some measure of belonging at a nearby ranch where she trains horses and does other odd jobs while disguised as a man. It’s the only life she’s ever known, until one day, a stranger shows up at her house and attacks her. When Nettie stakes him through the chest with a sharp piece of wood, he disintegrates into a pile of sand. Just like that, her life is turned completely upside down.
Nettie soon learns that the world is full of monsters. Real monsters, like blood drinkers, shapeshifters, harpies, and sirens and chupacabras and more. And now she can see them everywhere. At first, she tries to flee, donning her male disguise to join up with a team of cattle drivers. But Nettie doesn’t realize that she has been marked for a destiny, one she cannot escape until she fulfills the task set for her by forces ancient and unknowable.
First, I know I’ve made it known before how much I love western-fantasy settings. I also am a sucker for the good old girl-disguised-as-a-boy trope. Earlier this year, I read another coming-of-age novel with similar aspects, the fantastic Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson, but the two books are very different in their approaches. For one thing, Wake of Vultures is less traditionally Young Adult, leaning towards darker and more mature themes. Nettie’s home is also a grittier, fantastical setting inspired by the Old West, albeit steeped with real-world Native American folklore and mythology. On top of that, Bowen has created a very unique and special world where historical elements combine with the paranormal, so that we get to see some really cool things—like a reimagining of the legendary Rangers as a band of rough living and tough talking monsters hunters, for instance.
It’s also worth picking up Wake of Vultures just to read about Nettie, the most spirited, determined and unforgettable protagonist you’ll ever meet. A half-black, half-Native American woman, nothing in life has ever been easy for her, and yet even when constrained by societal expectations, she has the guts and gumption to do anything to get what she wants. Her gender keeping her from getting her dream job? No problem, chop off her hair and pretend to be one of the guys. And monsters beware, Nettie’s not one to lie down and be easy prey. After discovering her gift, she even tries her darndest to escape her fate, until her pragmatism and kindheartedness makes her realize she would be doing a lot more good by standing her ground against evil.
Furthermore, for someone who lives in disguise and who goes by so many different names, Nettie is surprisingly comfortable in her own skin. Whether she calls herself Nettie Lonesome, Nat Lonesome, or Rhett Hennessy, all those are simply different aspects of her true self; no matter which identity she takes on, her race, gender and sexuality are all things she embraces, even when she’s still learning what it all means, and I love how extraordinarily genuine and down-to-earth she is.
From the moment I heard about this book and its western setting, I knew I had to read it. And in the end, it turned out to be even more than I bargained for. Wake of Vultures did not disappoint, giving me what I wanted and then some. Bold and original, this weird west fantasy novel is a masterfully written tale full of thrilling adventure and heart. Give me book two now!