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Conspiracy of Ravens (The Shadow) by Lila…

Conspiracy of Ravens (The Shadow)

by Lila Bowen

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I loved almost everything about Wake of Vultures, the first book in The Shadow series by Lila Bowen. I loved the protagonist, the world it was set in, and the side characters. With the cliffhanger ending I knew I needed to read the next one as quickly as possible. When I got an early copy of Conspiracy of Ravens, the second book of the series, I was initially ecstatic. So why, then did it sit at a measly 7% read on my kindle for months and months on end?

Because Conspiracy of Ravens in no way holds up to Wake of Vultures.

Before I begin lamenting over a very unsatisfying part two of a story which once was wonderful, let me tell you a bit of the plot.

The story picks up pretty much where the first book left off. Rhett (née Nettie) had transformed into a giant bird of prey, larger than any usual vulture, and is lost among the desert sands with a mind that isn’t entirely her own. With the help of Earl O’Bannon, Rhett gains a better hold over his powers, learns more about himself. In return, he’ll accompany Earl to the Rangers so they can go and take down the man Earl escaped from, a terrifying man who tortures and murders the men building an unmapped railroad.

Before I begin spilling gripe after gripe, lets talk about the things the book did well, shall we?

The one thing that stands out is when Rhett comes to terms with who he is. The prose shifts from the use of feminine pronouns to describe Rhett, who, while externally calling herself Rhett still internally refers to herself as Nettie, to using male pronouns. This distinction marked a change that no beautifully written prose nor any number of paragraphs could hope to achieve. As this was early in the book, I had high hopes. But something wasn’t clicking for me, though I couldn’t see it quite yet.

But I dug back into the book some months later. I liked Earl, one of the side characters introduced in this book. Even if he was snippy and rude at times, I liked him. I understood him. And, towards the end, he was the character I sympathized with and connected with the most. Why? Like me, he couldn’t understand why Rhett was screwing around (literally and figuratively) for the last several hundred pages when his brother and hundreds of others were being worked to death, maimed, and killed at the hands of a literal monster that needed to be destroyed.

This is one of my largest gripes with the book. It isn’t an interesting story. This is a story about walking. The vast majority of the book is Rhett and the others walking or riding to where the action is while getting distracted by what I can only call RPG side quests along the way. One of which wasn’t needed at all, did nothing to further the story, and set up the most convoluted, stupid closing pages I may have ever read.

Speaking of this section, the book does some things that I really can’t stand at all. It touched on a pet peeve I can’t stand, one that’s festered for so long I’m not sure calling it a mere pet peeve is the right words anymore. I have hated the ‘lets make everyone forget the last several chapters with magic because dealing is hard’ thing since I read Silver on the Tree by Susan Cooper when I was about nine years old. Almost twenty years later it’s almost enough to me a drop a book. The entire section was completely unnecessary. Because everyone forgot the events, complicated things are never dealt with. Important turn of events are swept under the rug (because no one remembers them but for Rhett and Dan) and what could possibly lead to decent character development only leads to a convoluted, unnecessary mess.

The other major side quest Rhett rushes off on was, much like the first, also almost completely unnecessary. The only thing that was relevant plot wise was the Deus Ex Machina like magic dust. That’s right, magic dust. It’s completely necessary for the actual plot part of the book (when we finally meander there), it’s never explained, and we never really think about it again. The most disappointing thing about this section is that it could have been a much more poignant moment. There could have been much more than the halfhearted attempt at character development that we got.

Now, I loved the first book. And I loved the first book mostly because of Nettie. I like that Rhett knows himself better. I like that he really has an identity, that he feels more himself, that he understands himself better. What I don’t like (and don’t understand) is the complete personality change. If someone unfamiliar with the series read a passage using Nettie and she pronouns from the first book and a passage using Rhett and male pronouns from the second, I find it hard to believe that they would identify them as passages about the same character. The vast majority of the time Rhett is a complete asshole. Why? I mean, yes, the events of the last book may have been a bit traumatic for him. But Rhett wasn’t the only one to suffer. Surely Winifred, Dan, and Sam have gone through a lot as well. Most of the time Rhett came off as mean, surly, and generally becoming something akin to the men he hated the most in the first book.

As much as Rhett is hard headed and stubborn, he really needed more character growth. Or, at the bare minimum, more consistency with the prior book. At one point Sam, completely frustrated after one of Rhett’s totally unnecessary escapades, asks if Rhett realizes that he can trust them. And I understand Sam’s pain. After everything they’ve gone through, all the times where Rhett did trust them, the times he put his life in their hands, and now he runs off on his own, makes rash decisions with out them and only ever has a ‘I just have, my gut made me do it’ explanation?

The thing I disliked the most about Rhett’s personality flip? All the sleeping around.

First, it doesn’t feel at all consistent with Rhett’s views in the first book. I understand he feels more himself, understands himself better, but that doesn’t mean a sudden and complete flip of his views on love and being comfortable with other people like that make any kind of sense. I do not understand in the slightest how Rhett can claim to love one character and sleep around with two others. I mean, there are only five or so other characters who factor in heavily in the narrative in the first place. At this point Rhett’s been with more of his friends than not.

It just pisses me off. That’s all.

In the end, this book left me bitterly disappointed. I came to hate a character I previously adored. The plot was barely there, instead leaving a slow, rambling mess that didn’t even attempt to make up for the books poor handling of characters. The series could have very easily been tied up neatly at the end of book one – a couple of extra chapters would have been all it took. If you haven’t guessed, I’m not going to be continuing with the series. Not unless a miracle happens. If you don't mind trope-y books or really want to see where this series leads, maybe check this one out. If you don’t like unexplained personality shifts, love triangle (quadrangles?), and lots of book with little plot, do yourself a favor and don’t pick this one up. ( )
  kateprice88 | Jul 22, 2017 |
Wow. Just … wow. I was so glad to be able to go straight into this after Wake of Vultures. The game changed entirely at the end of that first book – is it still a cliffhanger if the main character jumps off the cliff? And here the times they just keep a–changing. Nettie determines once and for all to shed the parts of her she despises, insofar as she can, and adapts to this whole new part of her which I never saw coming.

Once again, the writing is intimate, gritty, and completely believable. Nettie's – or rather Rhett's loyalties are tested, his abilities are stretched and expanded, and his affections are tested. As if there hadn't been enough changes in his life, the realization that hit him – and hit him hard – at the end of Wake of Vultures turns into the biggest change at all. It leads him to a new friend – or, well, a new companion, anyway, both reluctant mentor and counter-irritant, and to a new quest – there's trouble surrounding a moving camp, laying track across the country – big trouble, and no one to deal with it but Rhett and his companions. So Rhett basically goes undercover to try to start its destruction from the inside.

There is at least as much action as in the first book – probably more, actually – but this is even more character-driven than that first book. Here Rhett has left behind any vestiges of femininity, as though the first shape-shifting burned it away. But he still carries a torch for his friend, and keeps finding himself in strange conjunctions with the sister of his other friend, and like other reviewers I found this a weak spot, a distraction in the plot.

But when all's said and done it's still a truly remarkable bit of world-building and character-building. I look forward to more.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review. ( )
  Stewartry | Apr 22, 2017 |
Full Review at Tenacious Reader: http://www.tenaciousreader.com/2016/11/03/audiobook-review-conspiracy-of-ravens-...

2.5/5 stars

DISCLAIMER: I normally write spoiler free reviews. In this case I really wanted to talk about some of the diversity features of Conspiracy of Ravens. There may be spoilers in regard to that aspect of the book.

Unfortunately, Conspiracy of Ravens just did not work as well for me as Wake of Vultures (which was an unexpected hit for me last year). I felt the over all pace of the story was slower. In the first book, I loved getting to know and understand Nettie/Rhett, learning about the magic and creatures. I loved reading about Nettie’s fight for survival. I never once felt like the book was slow. And the ending of the first book! It was exciting, and promised so much more story to come.

That is part of the reason I was so surprised to struggle to engage as much with the second one. The first quarter, or maybe even third of the book, I honestly fought to find anything interesting happening. There was a good amount of recap. There was a good amount of walking (with a donkey). And I have to say, the next largest component was Nettie/Rhett’s personality. Which unfortunately I found less fun and more whiney in this one.

Now, gender identity is a huge part of who Rhett is and his life. The problem for me I think is that I almost felt like that conflict was too big to serve as a subplot. I feel like the gender identity struggle would be better represented in a book that was dedicated to the character and their internal (and external) struggles surrounding that. I feel like that could make a very engaging, thought provoking and emotional read. Maybe that is a fault with me, but I almost felt like I would prefer more focus on this part of the character, or less. The level it was at almost made it feel more like it was just there, but not enough to do it justice. I mean, I get that this is who Rhett is and of course it will be a major component, but pairing that within the other plot, I just never felt as emotionally connected to the character as I wanted to be or felt like I should be to really understand and appreciate this inner conflict.

So, when it comes down to it the book started very slow for me. I also had issues connecting with the protagonist, which surprised me as I did not have that issue in Wake of Vultures. I could see enough merit in this book that I an appreciate others may still enjoy it. But for me? Ultimately, I think I am likely done with the series unless I hear rave reviews for book 3 to convince me to read on. ( )
1 vote tenaciousreader | Jan 4, 2017 |
Conspiracy of Ravens is the sequel to Lila Bowen’s weird Western fantasy novel, Wake of Vultures. While I would suggest reading the books in order, the plots are such that you could feasibly get away with reading Conspiracy of Ravens first. However, you would be missing out on the ongoing character arcs. This review will contain spoilers for the first book, so read at your own risk.

After jumping off the cliff at the end of Wake of Vultures, our protagonist has experienced some monumental self-discovery. For one, he’s realized that he is Rhett and a man, and the narrative no longer uses she/her pronouns. For another, he’s a shapeshifter. Once he resumes human form, he meets Earl O’Bannon, an Irish shifter who is desperate need of the Rangers. A railroad baron has been trapping monsters inside his camp and stealing body parts from them. This sounds like a job for the Shadow and his friends.

Structurally, Conspiracy of Ravens was a lot more cohesive than the first book. It felt like much more of a unified plot and less like a monster of a week type format. While Rhett still had encounters with other creatures along his way to the railroad camp (noticeably a scene that felt like an homage to The Last Unicorn), it felt like one book instead of a series of strung together encounters.

In the first book, I had been reading the protagonist as genderqueer, but Conspiracy of Ravens makes it clear that Rhett is a transman. He is no longer referred to as “Nettie” and the narrative uses he/him pronouns instead of she/her.

However, I’m actually not a huge fan of Rhett. He’s sort of a jerk. Maybe part of it is that he’s somewhat lacking in social skills? But he’s also got more than a little sexism in him. I was hoping to see him grow on this front, but it doesn’t really happen in this book. It seems more like whenever he meets an admirable female character (and Winifred is totally awesome) he categorizes her as an exception to the general passiveness and weakness that is womankind. But the sexism does feel more like a character trait than a narrative trait, if that makes any sense. Anyway, I’m still hoping that Rhett will have some character growth in this area in future books.

My other complaint is that Rhett has way too many love interests. Look, I’m not a reader who’s a fan of love triangles, so a book with three love interests? Urgh, no thanks. I hope things get resolved fairly soon, because I’m tired of romance drama.

All that said, I am definitely reading book three. I think Conspiracy of Ravens actually made some improvements upon the first book, and I’m excited to see where the series will go from here.

Originally posted on The Illustrated Page.

I received an ARC of Conspiracy of Ravens from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. ( )
  pwaites | Dec 6, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0316302279, Hardcover)

The sequel to Wake of Vultures, where a rich, secret world is hiding beneath the surface.

Nettie Lonesome made a leap -- not knowing what she'd become. But now her destiny as the Shadow is calling.

A powerful alchemist is leaving a trail of dead across the prairie. And Nettie must face the ultimate challenge: side with her friends and the badge on her chest or take off alone on a dangerous mission that is pulling her inexorably toward the fight of her life.

When it comes to monsters and men, the world isn't black and white. What good are two wings and a gun when your enemy can command a conspiracy of ravens?

The Shadow series
Wake of Vultures
Conspiracy of Ravens

(retrieved from Amazon Sat, 25 Jun 2016 12:21:13 -0400)

"The sequel to Wake of Vultures, where a rich, secret world is hiding beneath the surface. Nettie Lonesome made a leap -- not knowing what she'd become. But now her destiny as the Shadow is calling. A powerful alchemist is leaving a trail of dead across the prairie. And Nettie must face the ultimate challenge: side with her friends and the badge on her chest or take off alone on a dangerous mission that is pulling her inexorably toward the fight of her life. When it comes to monsters and men, the world isn't black and white. What good are two wings and a gun when your enemy can command a conspiracy of ravens? The Shadow series; Wake of Vultures -- Conspiracy of Ravens"--… (more)

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