Review: Conspiracy of Ravens by Lila Bowen

Conspiracy of Ravens by Lila Bowen (The Shadow #2)

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Western

Publisher: Orbit Books on October 11, 2016

Source: Publisher

My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a digital review copy. No compensation was provided for this review, and all opinions are my own.

Monsters, magic and the supernatural combine in this sequel to Wake of Vultures, in which a young woman must defeat the evil hiding beneath the surface.

ย ย 

If the phrase “weird western” makes your ears perk up, or if you’re interested in reading SF/F featuring a trans character, then Lila Bowen’s The Shadow series is for you. While I didn’t love CONSPIRACY OF RAVENS nearly as much as I loved WAKE OF VULTURES, I still enjoyed the story and I think it provides an important, underrepresented perspective for readers.

The story in CONSPIRACY OF RAVENS picks up right where the first book left off – which was a vicious cliffhanger – with Rhett having just used his magical ability for the first time. A lot of this story focuses on him coming to terms with his destiny as The Shadow, a monster tasked with tracking down other monsters who need killing for one reason or another. It’s some old-school frontier justice, monster style. For Rhett, no matter what he truly wants to do and where he wants to go, his life isn’t his own. There’s a call he needs to answer…even if it means leaving some of his friends behind. But have no fear, fans of the series will be pleased that Sam, Coyote Dan, and Winifred all accompany Rhett on his next mission: taking down a corrupt rail boss who enslaves his workers with magic.

Despite the potential for another fast-paced and action-packed read, much of the plot in CONSPIRACY OF RAVENS is predicated upon a journey from one part of the desert to another. So don’t expect too much in the way of plot-related thrills and chills, because the pacing was rather slow and uneven. During the middle of the book I actually found it difficult to muster much interest in the storyline at all, but I persisted (heh) and things did eventually pick up from there…although admittedly not quite as much as I would’ve liked.

Part of the reason this book is so light on plot is because of the in-depth examination of Rhett as a character, which is an absolutely necessary component of a CONSPIRACY OF RAVENS. Unlike the first book where we read from the perspective of Nettie/Rhett, here Rhett has fully transitioned and is now grappling with the mental and emotional labour that comes along with that. Personally, I think Bowen does a very good job representing how difficult it is for Rhett, especially the cognitive dissonance that comes with the biological issues that FTM trans people may need to deal with. But despite all this, Rhett is empowered to be himself fully now that he’s transitioned and that’s been great to read about.

Rhett’s romantic and sexual relationships are also explored, with considerably less success in my opinion. In one scene, Rhett and another character have sex under the influence of magic and while Rhett remembers it and is pleased, his partner does not remember…and Rhett consciously chooses not to tell them. That’s really messed up. Unfortunately, Rhett’s also extra self-absorbed this time around, and doesn’t think about how his actions (or inaction) will harm the people he ostensibly cares about. I realize that the dude’s seventeen, but come on buddy. You can do better.

Even though I struggled with the slow pacing and some of Rhett’s choices, I still think that this is a strong series and I plan to continue on with it. Here’s hoping that CONSPIRACY OF RAVENS simply had a case of the sophomore slump, and the third book is stronger!

Do you enjoy reading books with a “weird western” slant to them? What do you think ofย The Shadowย series so far? Let me know in the comments!

  • I did like book 1, but for some reason never felt the need to put book 2 on my wishlist, sometimes that just happen

    • I know what you mean! In this case, book 1 was definitely the stronger of the two.

  • Ug. Why do so many second books fall into the ‘traveling along’ trap. Some stories can take that, but often it just feels like filler.

    • I’ve no idea, but way too many sequels do it! It’s especially frustrating in seconds books when the whole travelling along thing was used in the first, but with much more success.

  • I’ve seen lots of reviews that share your opinion that this book just wasn’t as good as the first. I haven’t started this series but I LOVE weird westerns so hopefully one of these days.

    • Oh well you’re definitely in for a treat if you pick this series up, Tammy! The first book was one of my favourites when I read it, and while this wasn’t on the same level it was still good. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • MaddalenaSpaceandSorcery

    Book 1 of this series is still sitting in my reading queue: unfortunately I tend to get distracted by other titles and Wake of Vultures keeps being shifted down the line… It’s a pity that the second installment of this series is not on the same level as the first one, whose high acclaim convinced me to add it to my list! Let’s hope the situation gets better with the next book ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Hahaha I hear you on that one, Maddalena! My own TBR queue is constantly shifting. But the first book is absolutely fantastic and I highly recommend it. I do like the direction of the series overall so I’m hopeful that the third book will work better for me!

  • Lynn Williams

    I have the 1st and 2nd book but haven’t had a chance to read yet. I’ll give them a go eventually. A bit disappointed that you didn’t enjoy this one more – still – the next book might pick up?

    • Oh yeah, I think the third book will get things back on track just based on some of the plot/foreshadowing at the end of this one. In any case, the first book is exceptionally good!

  • Huh. I’d not heard of this series or this author. At first this book caught my attention, but after reading your review, I don’t think this one would be for me. It sounds kind of slow-paced, and that aspect of the sexual relationship in this book would really bother me. Still, I’m glad you didn’t totally hate this book! Wonderful review, Danya!

    Have a lovely weekend. =)

    Alyssa @ The Eater of Books!

    • Lila Bowen is a pen name for Delilah S. Dawson, maybe you’ve heard of her under that name! That’s all totally fair, this one was pretty slow and the way that sexual relationship played out was unacceptable imo. It’s too bad though, because the first book was soooo good!

      Thanks Alyssa! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Honestly based on all the ho hum reviews I’ve seen for Conspiracy of Ravens, I don’t think I’ll be continuing this series. Which makes me sad because I loved the first book! But I loved it precisely because I love weird western and the paranormal action elements. Slow and uneven pacing plus the lack of plot-related thrills and chills seems quite the opposite of Wake of Vultures.

    • It seems like virtually everyone felt that this book was a letdown, so I totally understand why you’d give up on this series. Same, such a disappointment because Wake of Vultures is SUCH a great book! I definitely wouldn’t say no to more weird westerns, though.

  • Greg Hill

    This seems to be one of those series that has killer titles! I mean, Conspiracy of Ravens? How cool is that? anyway, okay. ๐Ÿ™‚ Fantasy and a western definitely makes my ears perk up. Bummer it wasn’t excellent, but hopefully book three picks up. It certainly seems to have potential! Maybe I’ll give the first one a try and I’ll just keep in mind this one’s a bit uneven…

    • Ugh I know! And the first one, Wake of Vultures, is great too. The cover art is also killer.

      Normally I find westerns a bit sketchy and kinda racist (at least the old school, classic ones) so one of my favourite things about this series is the mix of magic and a diverse cast to switch things up. The first book is SO GOOD! I hope you like it, Greg!

  • Hmm, weird western? I’ll admit I’m intrigued haha. The cover is very cool. Glad this book was still worth the read even though you didn’t like it as much as book 1. Lovely review!

    • Haha right? Add in some magic and paranormal elements to a western and bang, weird western books! So cool. The first book is absolutely amazing, too. Thanks Cyn! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I ADORE weird westerns but haven’t yet started this series. Bummer that this book wasn’t as strong as book 1!

    • They are so much fun, aren’t they? Plus, lots of magical horses, which is always a win in my book. Yeah, it was disappointing for sure – hopefully the third book is stronger!

  • The only weird western I can think of is the Rebel of the Sands series. And it is fantastic, but I have to admit I would not go for any sort of western generally. This one is a bit of a mixed bag isn’t it?