Review: Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen

Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen (The Shadow #1)Wake of Vultures

Genre: Fantasy, Western, YA

Publisher: Orbit Books on October 27, 2015

Source: Publisher

Rating StarRating StarRating StarRating StarRating Star

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

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.

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Lila Bowen’s WAKE OF VULTURES is not only entirely original, fast-paced, and poignant, it also introduces one of the most memorable protagonists I’ve had the pleasure of reading about in recent years.

Mixed-race, an orphan, and a girl to boot, there’s a lot counting against Nettie Lonesome. Her “guardians” Mam and Pap treat her with neglect at best and outright malice at worst, acting as though the girl is their slave…a type of treatment that Nettie’s been conditioned all her life to accept. Things finally start looking up for Nettie when, dressed as a boy, she’s hired on at a nearby ranch where she can make use of her gift with horses. But nothing in Nettie’s life stays good for long, and she suddenly discovers that there are far more monstrous things out there on the dusty plain than Mam and Pap.

On the run, Nettie encounters a variety of people who make her question what she’s always been told about her past – and her worth. With grim humour and unflagging determination, Nettie faces prejudice and more than a few bullies head-on. Her ability to embrace and accept the differences and inherent contradictions within herself and others is an admirable personality trait, and it made for some thought-provoking introspection on Nettie’s part. Unlike most protagonists that fall into the “girl disguised as a boy” trope, Nettie doesn’t only dress this way for convenience. Nettie knows that biologically she’s a girl, but there’s little she finds more insulting than being referred to as a girl or a woman. Her opinion on her gender, and her identity at large, is this:

“Only I can say what I am.”

That’s Nettie in a nutshell: straight to the point, yet powerful all the same. WAKE OF VULTURES also features the most realistic portrayal of reactions to the “girl disguised as a boy” trope that I’ve ever encountered. It was heart-wrenching and honest and supremely satisfying to read about. Bravo to Lila Bowen.

Despite my gushing over Nettie, there’s a lot more to this book than just the characters. Nettie and her companions travel all across a re-imagined, weird Western Texas hunting monsters. The greatest of these monsters is the Cannibal Owl, a creature that eats children. The twists and turns Β kept me guessing throughout, and the stakes are much higher than your average YA novel. But that shouldn’t be a surprise, given that WAKE OF VULTURES is anything but average.

I switched between the print version and the audiobook of WAKE OF VULTURES, and I have to say that the audio version is perfection. If you’re a fan of audiobooks, I can’t recommend this one enough! Robin Miles’ performance is unparalleled, making use of subtle accents, timing, and tone to convey the uniqueness of Nettie and all those she encounters. Her voices for the various monsters are on point as well.

Highly recommended to those looking for darker reads, diverse protagonists, and boundary-pushing YA novels.

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  • While this sounds like an really interesting read, it also sounds unrelentingly grim :/ I know there’s a place for that in books, but it makes me wary of picking something like that up, you know? I quite like the cover though πŸ˜‰

    • It’s definitely grim, but not unrelentingly so! I’d actually say it’s pretty hopeful, mostly because of Nettie’s indomitable spirit.

      Yeah, I really like the new cover treatment too! One of the few times I prefer the re-release over the original.

  • This has been on my list for a long time, and I really do need to read it, seeing as the sequel is coming out soon, right? Thanks for the review!

    • Haha yeah, I’d been meaning to read it for ages too – so many people have raved about it! I’m pretty sure the sequel is coming out in the Fall. πŸ™‚

  • I could do with a darker read

  • This is a pretty great pick for diverse reads…I really enjoyed it as well. When I read Revenge and the Wild earlier this year, I wish that book had been more like this one: Western, paranormal, and awesome protagonist. I think Wake of Vultures spoiled me forever!

    • Oh no, now you’ve got me worried that the other “weird Western” books I’m planning to read won’t measure up to Wake of Vultures! Although I suppose I could’ve guessed that already.

      Have you read/heard anything about Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman? That looks like it could be a Western paranormal with a great protagonist, but I haven’t heard much about it!

  • I need to check this one out. I’m not a huge fan of the whole “girl disguised as boy” trope, but I like the sound of it here.

    • It was SO cleverly and honestly done! I do really enjoy that trope, but I’m often disappointed by the way the reveal is handled by other characters – that definitely wasn’t the case with Wake of Vultures though! πŸ™‚

  • This sounds really cool! I’m a huge fan of dark, edgy fantasy so I’ll definitely give this a read.

    • I’m trying to think of other YA fantasy novels that are similarly dark and gritty but honestly, none come to mind that measure up to Wake of Vultures. Lila Bowen (real name Delilah S. Dawson) has a hit on her hands!

  • What is this book? It sounds so interesting and most definitely an original read. I just don’t know where to start with what sounds good about it? I mean dark fantasy appeals anyway but the protagonist, Nettie, sounds just perfect. The kind of character anyone should want to read about but who I most definitely want to read about. I mean, there are things that make this book sound less appealing, but the good outweighs my doubts so I’ll be on the lookout for it.

    • Probably one of the most original YA books I’ve ever read, and certainly the most original, compelling protagonist I’ve encountered in ages! Honestly a few of Nettie’s more quotable moments (spoiler-y so I won’t include them!) had me blubbering like a baby. Plus the amount of character growth she goes through in this book is just unreal!

      I hope you do get a chance to pick it up, Becky! πŸ™‚

  • Lisa (@TenaciousReader)

    I really enjoyed this book so much! Nettie is such a great character. Glad to see you gave it a shot and loved it as well πŸ™‚ bonus girl dressed as boy trope! I know you’re a fellow fan πŸ™‚

    • Haha yes, I will always be drawn to books that feature that trope! Somehow it never gets old, but Lila Bowen did an especially great job with it in this one!

  • Lynn Williams

    I’ve liked the sound of this one for ages so great to see such another positive review. I do have this on the wishlist – they way I’m going at the moment I’m probably read it in the year 2020
    Lynn πŸ˜€

    • HA! I hear that. The other day I was looking through some of the unread books on my shelves, and I realized that most of them have been on my TBR for >3 years. Isn’t that awful? I really need to control my ARC-related grabby hands.

  • A 5 star YA western, I am definitely looking forward to reading it, the darker the better, great review!!!