Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I stinkin' loved this book. Clearly, as I gave it five stars, so that's obvious. And normally my reviews don't get all analytical or deep, but because this book tackles so much and does it really, really well, I feel like it deserves some praise and a little bit deeper of a review.
This book is set in the past - the late 1800s Southwest, to be exact -- but its message includes some highly relevant subjects. Sure it's a fantasy take on the famous western "Cowboy and Indian" tales and games we used to play as kids, down to the small desert towns, saloons, and badged rangers, but it's so much more than that.
Okay, yeah, a lot of this "more" is because it's got magic mixed in, which is honestly one of the only reasons I'd give a western book a chance -- not a big fan of the genre in general -- but the biggest "more" of Bowen's work is the intense level of diversity she has included. Her main character is not the typical "cowboy hero" or "native who has a heart for all people." She's dark, gritty, and a loner by nature. But then the "modern" issues enter the picture (I use quotes there because, well, these issues have long been a part of the human experience, but archaic thinking and religion and most cultures have tamped down things that are different for as long as the world has memory) - gender identity, self-acceptance, race (mixed, even!), and sexuality all play a vital role in the development of our heroine/hero. Nettie Lonesome is a half-black, half-Comanche badass. She just doesn't know how badass she is at first. She starts the book virtually as a slave to the couple that "adopted" her, not knowing her past, and getting by, unhappy. She's not comfortable in her womanhood, and feels more comfortable in her own skin by living as a man. So as time goes by, her choices lead her to join the Rangers (who fight monsters of the actual variety) as Rhett, not as Nettie, and the story leads us to a final conclusion against a brutal, vicious monster AND through a journey of not only self-discovery, but of a deeper understanding of a world she thought she understood, but barely knew.
I struggle with knowing the correct pronoun to use, because the author herself uses "she" but Nettie's compatriots think she is (and therefore refer to her as) a man. So I'll just put my little apology here, and end with the following plea:
If you're comfortable with all those "today topics," give this book a shot.
If you're NOT comfortable with all those "today topics," give this book a shot.
If you want a good historical urban fantasy, give this book a shot.
JUST GIVE THIS BOOK A SHOT.
Can't wait for book two.
(Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.)
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