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Wake of Vultures (The Shadow) by Lila Bowen
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Wake of Vultures (The Shadow)

by Lila Bowen

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Wow. I'm not entirely sure what to say about this book. I loved it, and was tremendously impressed by it – but, oddly, I made only one note as I read it. Maybe I was just too caught up in the read to think about it.

Lila Bowen takes a corner of space and time that few others have paid attention to, and she makes it her own. It's a ways after the Civil-War in the Southwest US, yet Nettie Lonesome is basically a slave. Black amid whites, a girl with the desire and ability to do the things only men do, utterly unloved and unremarked, when her life is changed by an unexpected, unexpectedly supernatural attack, she walks away from her old life with hardly a thought, and remakes herself. She goes with her instincts and disguises herself – successfully – as a boy: Rhett. In the best F&SF tradition, she begins to seek to create her own family where none has ever existed for her before.

And then things turn upside-down again. Ghosts, creatures, shapeshifters – after a childhood and youth of unrelentingly painful sameness, suddenly she has more excitement to face than she could ever have dreamed. And she falls in with the Rangers – who, it turns out, are primarily tasked with fighting not Indians or Mexicans but supernatural dangers.

This was a fascinating aspect of the story for me. At one point the captain muses about perception. They would follow a trace or a cry for help into a town or settlement, where something would have been having its way with the populace, laying waste and eating its fill. In would come the Rangers, and destroy the whatever-it-was – but "by the time news reaches a town, all that's left of the monsters is sand and ashes." A number of citizens are dead; those who saw what did it don't believe the evidence of their own sense; the things that did do it are dead and gone. And there are the Rangers, figuratively standing over the bodies. "We keep folks safe, and they villainize us for it…"

There are lots more surprises, for the reader and for Nettie herself, all the way up to the end – which (warning!) is an all but literal cliffhanger. I have never been so glad to have immediate access to a sequel, I think, because I was fully invested in the story, the setting, and the characters – especially, of course, Nettie herself. It's a wonderful, remarkable, unique world Lila Bowen has created out of this desert.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review. ( )
  Stewartry | Apr 22, 2017 |
Review originally found at Looking Glass Reads

Lila Bowen's Wake of Vultures is a a wonderful YA fantasy with a truly unforgettable protagonist. It is a fantasy set in the western US. And I am very, very happy I picked up this book.

I’m just going to come right out and say it. Nettie Lonesome, protagonist of Wake of Vultures, is the most memorable female protagonist in a young adult novel I've read since I devoured Tamora Peirce's novels as a child.

The story opens with Nettie Lonesome, a mixed race girl living with the family that adopted her, but would rather treat her like live in help than a daughter. After being attacked by a man seemingly immune to scythes but not chunks of wood, she can see … things. Things she doesn’t really know how to explain. The world is filled with monsters, some of which really don’t like Nettie very much.

The already hard life on ranches and little towns out west is made even more difficult by the supernatural, something Nettie is gifted with seeing. It’s a gritty world, one with foundations in the Old West and western movies with a healthy dose of fantasy and the paranormal, along with Native American folklore and myth. The places are very real; the world jumps off the page.

Even better than Lila Bowen’s world building are her characters. Nettie Lonesome is one of the best heroines I have ever come across. Nettie is a girl of mixed race, raised by a Caucasian family. She goes by several different names – Nettie Lonesome, Nat Lonesome, Rhett Hennessey – but always she remains her. Nettie's shifting names and shifting gender don’t bother her at all. Nettie is who she says she is, remains unequivocally steadfast in her opinions, convictions, and morals. She is a strong character, one who has always relied on herself, and learns to rely on her friends. She doesn’t allow little things such as let being the wrong gender stop her from being a rancher just like she always wanted.

Nettie’s the kind of character you read about and say ‘I want to be like her when I grow up’, even if you already are grown up and have just about reached the age where maybe you don’t want to say just how grown up you really are.

And yet, she has room for growth. Nettie isn’t perfect. She doesn’t really want anything to do with strange people who turn into black dust, nor any of the other monsters that keep attacking people close to her. But, eventually, she stops running, and faces fate head on.

Pick up this book. Right now. It’s one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. You won’t be disappointed. ( )
  kateprice88 | Jan 30, 2017 |
This dark weird western is an incredibly well-written and fast read, once it gets going, but it's also a difficult read. Bowen doesn't shy away from the racism and sexism of the old west in her re-styled historical fantasy setting of western Texas. Her heroine is a teenage girl of black and Native American heritage who has essentially been treated as a slave by her 'adoptive parents.' Nettie is a very relatable character, even through her rage and bluster, because you can't help but want her to discover her own self worth and a place to belong. She's on a hard journey, though. After she kills a strange being in self-defense, she finds that monsters exist all around her, and she's soon forced on a quest to kill a creature that is the very stuff of nightmares.

If literature that includes rape and near-rape is a trigger for you, you should be able that the book is very blunt about the threat of such events. There were several assaults in the story that I found difficult to read, but in the end, I appreciated how Bowen handled the situations.

The book ends with a cliffhanger--quite literally--so I'm glad I already have the second book as part of a 2-in-1 galley. I am left wanting to know more about this twisted western fantasy world. ( )
  ladycato | Jan 5, 2017 |
Dark fantasies set in the Old West have been gaining popularity. I finally got a chance to read one of them, Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen. The book has been on my TBR list for a while and several authors have spoken highly of it.

Though I am a fan of dark fantasy, history, and different cultures, I’m not usually a fan of “westerns.” So I wasn’t really sure how I would like Wake of Vultures. But I’m happy to say I liked it a lot! If you’re a stickler for the definitions of the genres, you might have a hard time calling this either an urban fantasy or a western, but it is a great story regardless of what you call it.

Nettie Lonesome is trying to find her place in the world. Is she a daughter or a slave? Is she a ranch hand or a monster hunter? Is she timid or brave? Is she human, or something else? She can’t take for granted anything she thinks she knows about the world because nothing is what she thought it was.

A part of this book is about how your childhood experiences shape you and screw you up, both. A larger part is about how you, and only you, get to decide who and what you are. Life presents you many opportunities to figure that out, but you decide how they shape you. The author’s comments indicate that she was intentional about the diversity issues she addressed in this book, which is awesome. Nettie is a half-black, half-Native American living with white folks. She identifies as male, though she is biologically female and experiences attraction to both genders. At times she feels she has to hide what she is, at others she feels the relief of being accepted. It’s quite an emotional ride for Nettie, and she handles it better than most of us ever world, I think.

And, of course, there are monsters to hunt! Skinwalkers, vampires, harpies, werewolves, a water horse, a siren (yeah, in the desert-dry Old West), and some Native American creatures that are new to me. Can’t have either a western or an urban fantasy without something to hunt.

I’m really impressed with this first book in The Shadow series, and I’m hoping I get to read book 2, A Conspiracy of Ravens, fairly soon. This is a series I am really going to enjoy. ( )
  InvestedIvana | Nov 29, 2016 |
I liked this book a lot. The protagonist is not the sort of person who usually gets to be a protagonist in an Old West setting (she's biracial, trans/non-binary gendered, and bisexual). Since she starts out so isolated, her understanding of many things about the world develops over the course of the book. Sometimes this makes for uncomfortable reading -- she starts out with some crappy ideas about women, which makes sense in the story, but it often felt like the author was flirting with the "transmasculine people are only that way because sexism / because they didn't have good woman role models" trope. By the end I don't /think/ that was her intent, but...

The world is full of moral ambiguity; few people are all good or all bad. Refreshingly for a story with "monster hunter" elements, the supernatural creatures also have moral complexity to them, and it's not always clear who's in the right. I look forward to the sequel. ( )
  lavaturtle | Sep 27, 2016 |
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This one goes out to #WeNeedDiverseBooks, Gangstagrass, and everyone who bucks the binary.
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Nettie Lonesome had two things in the world that were worth a sweet goddamn: her old boots and her one-eyed mule.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0316264318, Hardcover)

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 into black sand.

And just like that, Nettie can see.

But her newfound ability 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 to her true kin... if the monsters along the way don't kill her first.

(retrieved from Amazon Wed, 05 Aug 2015 18:25:02 -0400)

"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 into 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 to her true kin... if the monsters along the way don't kill her first. "--… (more)

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