Audiobook Review: Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen
Genre: Fantasy, Western, LGBTQ, Young Adult
Series: The Shadow #1
Publisher: Orbit (October 27, 2015)
Tiara’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Narrator: Robin Miles | Length: 10 hrs and 47 mins | Audiobook Publisher: Hachette Audio (October 27, 2015) | Whispersync Ready: Yes (As of this posting)
Wake of Vultures is the story of Nettie Lonesome, a half black, half Native American girl living in the Wild Wild West. Orphaned at a young age, Nettie was taken in by a white couple who have treated her like a personal slave. Dressed as a boy, Nettie helps to break in horses at a local, thriving ranch without being officially part of the ranch, and she wants nothing more than to be a wrangler. Fate has other things in mind for her after she kills a hostile vampire one night, and once you’ve killed a supernatural creature, there’s no unseeing them. After living a few glorious days of her dream to be an official bronc buster (and hoping to forget her encounter with the vampire), she’s thrust back into the supernatural world when she’s chosen to become the one to defeat a creature, known as The Cannibal Owl, steals children from various tribes and towns.
I’m always pleased when a book turns out to be so much more than I was expecting it to be. There’s nothing more satisfying than when a book hits me hard and makes me want more. While I was reading this book, I didn’t want Nettie’s story to end. I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning finishing this book. I dreamed about this book when I finally went to sleep. I suffered a book hangover so great when I did wake up from my four hours of sleep that I almost started listening to this book again. Robin Miles brings Nettie’s world to life with a phenomenal narration. This is the second book I’ve had the pleasure of listening to by Miles, and I’ve been impressed with the emotions she’s was able to evoke from the text. It was serious.
— Digital Tempest (@digitaltempest) May 16, 2016
From the beginning, readers are made aware that this book is to be associated with the movement for more diverse fiction by mentioning the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks. Bowen (pen name of author Delilah S. Dawson) also dedicates this to the people who “buck” gender binary. With that in mind, I went into this story expecting more than I probably should have, but I wasn’t disappointed with what I found. Bowen does feature a diversity of characters. She manages to capture the feel of a country that has firm ideas about the roles of women and its non-white inhabitants. She’s able to do this without employing caustic, triggering scenes meant to show this. It gives a sense of the struggle without much of the grossness that accompany it with one exception that I’ll talk about later. Bowen doesn’t load her story down with social rebellion despite the circumstances. The characters go against the grain of what’s expected of them, but they’re subtle in their rebellion.
What’s truly impressive about this book is not only the diversity in the characters, but the diversity in regards to gender and sexuality as well. I would consider Nettie to be gender fluid, but a good argument could be made toward her being a trans boy (which can still fall on the gender fluid spectrum). Despite your standing on the issue, her situation is not as simple as a girl dressing as a boy because it’s more than just a superficial change to her look to fit in. Nettie’s struggle with gender is a very internalized thing riddled with conflicting emotions and feelings. She’s both confident in and puzzled by her own nature. It’s not so much because she doesn’t know who she is, but there is no “category” for her in the Wild West. Now, given the time period that Nettie lives in there is no social justice, as I mentioned, outside the wisdom of a pair of twins who have a very broad view of the world. These characters are living in a society, fictional or not, that punishes people for being too forward, too bold, too nonconformist. For that reason, Nettie and the supporting characters who exhibit “otherness” act according to the time period they live in.
Now, I don’t read much Western fiction. It’s not that I’m not interested in it because I actually do enjoy other media in a Western setting. In any event, I can’t really tell you how this stands up to other Western fiction. As a historical piece with a supernatural element, I think it works very well. Bowen paints a broad idea of the time period this is set in in American history while changing things to suit her needs such as her interpretation of the legendary and controversial Rangers. She admits to being influenced by Lonesome Dove, which you can see reflected in Nettie’s name. As a history nerd, I love to see history used in books in creative ways in speculative literature. Nettie herself is a wonderfully rounded character. She’s obstinate, kind, confused, confident, and brave–among other things. She struggles with wanting people in her life, but being afraid of people becoming close to her. There’s an abundance of emotions and feelings in her heart. It’s hard not to like her or the group of people she acquires during her journey.
While this is classified as Young Adult, it’s grittier and darker than most books in the YA genre. With that in mind, I do have to warn readers of a particularly intense attempted rape scene near the end. I’m one of those people who can be turned off with the usage of rape/attempted rape in certain fictional contexts. I won’t spoil the scene, but I feel like its inclusion was consistent with what readers learn and it doesn’t feel like it’s there just for the sake of emotionally manipulating the reader. Just be warned.
I never expected to become quite so invested in Nettie’s story. The ending left me emotionally twirling, especially under the fact that the next book won’t be out until October. I look forward to continuing this journey with Nettie as she finds out more about her heritage, herself as a person, and her new place as a protector of innocents against the things that hide in the night.