Review: Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen
Series: The Shadow #1
Also by this author: Conspiracy of Ravens
Published by Orbit on October 27th 2015
Also in this series: Conspiracy of Ravens
A rich, dark fantasy of destiny, death and the supernatural world hiding beneath the surface.
Nettie Lonesome lives in a land of hard people and hard ground dusted with sand. She's a half-breed who dresses like a boy, raised by folks who don't call her a slave but use her like one. She knows of nothing else. That is, until the day a stranger attacks her. When nothing, not even a sickle to the eye can stop him, Nettie stabs him through the heart with a chunk of wood and he turns to black sand.
And just like that, Nettie can see.
But her newfound sight is a blessing and a curse. Even if she doesn't understand what's under her own skin, she can sense what everyone else is hiding - at least physically. The world is full of evil, and now she knows the source of all the sand in the desert. Haunted by the spirits, Nettie has no choice but to set out on a quest that might lead her to find her true kin . . . if the monsters along the way don't kill her first.
Wake of Vultures is a western fantasy doused with folklore, and complete with vampires, werewolves and shape-shifters. Just don’t go into this expecting the sparkling variety of vampires or the happy, hunky type of werewolves. This is a darker book that left me mesmerized by the world and characters. And did I mention, it also features one of my favorite tropes, as Nettie, our female protagonist has taken to living as a man while pursuing a new life for her self.
Nettie has an incredibly hard life. She is the only non-white person around (she is what they referred to as “half breed” or “mixed breed”, showing signs of Native American and black descent), and was raised by a couple who told her that when no one else would have her, they showed her mercy by taking her in as a baby. But they show her no love, give her no support, and they certainly never took any steps to try and educate her. She may call them Pap and Mam as if they were her parents, but they treat her as a servant, but without the pay. It really is a loveless and thankless life she has been living.
But, she has found a passion, a love in her life. And that’s the animals. Nettie loves the horses that she is told to break. She uses patience and understanding to get the animal to submit to her will rather than force. This is the one part of her life that really makes her happy. And the one person who showed her kindness was Monty, the top hand at a neighboring ranch. Just having this one person, who she might not even know well enough to call a friend, treat her with respect gives Nettie the will and the chance to really change her life.
And the need for that change happens in the blink of an eye when Nettie is attacked in her barn. The scene is intense and leaves Nettie scared and bewildered. Her eyes have seen something that her mind can not explain, but she know really happened. What happens in that barn forever changes Nettie’s life and is the catalyst for the rest of the story.
Just as things start to go her way, everything changes. Again. Through the course of events, she is set on a mission of revenge by vengeful ghost who threatens to haunt her to her grave if she doesn’t accomplish a seemingly impossible task. She is given the choice to hunt or be hunted, and probably haunted as well. Did I mention, I loved the mix of magic and folklore that was present in this story Nettie’s quest gives the reader a wonderful blend here and also lent a unique feel to the story.
As for character, Nettie can be ruthlessly rude at times. I think this just comes from her having a serious lack of people skills do to her upbringing. She was not shown kindness or understanding, it makes it hard for her to know how to relate and interact with other people. If all she has been shown in her life is rudeness and meanness, is it that surprising that she does not know how to handle herself well? And while she may not have a filter in what she says or does, she is incredibly spirited, you just can’t help but love her. She is a complex character, and is far from perfect, but her journey in this book, as she is chased by monsters, pursued by humans and haunted by a vengeful spirit let you understand her and you can watch her character grow and develop.
She also has not had any kind of female role model. For her, she sees her Mam treated poorly by her Pap. She can see there’s is a discrepency in power, in that the male holds all of it, and the female is expected to be submissive. She also see the standard roles of a woman as dreary work, where as breaking horses, and other jobs that fall to the men are something she sees as fun. And as she has entered puberty, she has also seen how a woman’s body can make her the subject of unwelcome attention. Sadly, she sees women as weak, less than men. Can a girl be sexist? It almost feels that way at times, and you can’t help but feel for her as she has obviously had such a narrow view of the world. At times I wanted to shake her and tell her to look towards herself for a role model as a woman who could be strong and could choose to do more than whatever was demanded of them by men. Granted she had to disguise herself as a male to accomplish this, but knowing she has the power and capability to do so should raise her view of women. But, she is young, and learning, so I still hold much hope for this young woman.
There is also a romance aspect of this was very interesting. It’s not a huge component of the story, but it does take some unexpected and interesting turns. For a girl who acts like she doesn’t want to be a girl, her hormones definitely can kick in and give her a typical crush for a 16 year old girl. But this is a coming of age tale, and I felt the romance aspect of it was very relevant.
Nettie Lonesome doesn’t ask for much. Just a chance to work hard in a way that makes her happy. What happens as a result of her pursuit of this is a wonderful, if not always happy, tale that ended on a note that left me craving for the next book immediately.
This review originally posted on The Speculative Herald.