Every now and then a book comes along that holds up the middle finger to convention and expectations, proceeding to create its own world in its own damn way, thank you very much. WAKE OF VULTURES by Lila Bowen (pseudonym of Delilah Dawson), does exactly that. Take yer stodgy tropes and stuff’em in a sack.
It’s not a young adult book–too much violence and sex for that–but it’s a book very much about finding your identity, both externally and internally. And Nettie’s got a doozy–a half-black, half-native girl who identifies as a man and is attracted to both men and women, she escapes from unspoken slavery to become a monster-hunter in a fictionalized Wild West full of vampires, werewolves, and one horrific Cannibal Owl. Her search for a place and an understanding of herself is authentic and tangled as they come, her abuses and successes over the course of the book adding layers of complication to an already 3-dimensional character.
The setting in this book was definitely a character of its own. In the first half particularly, I could feel the rolling gait of the horse and the hot desert wind, see the flickers in the relentless sun as the vultures circle overhead. This fantasy wild west was as real as any John Wayne movie and provided the perfect backdrop for tough choices and tougher personalities.
(Also, I just want to say, this book shows me that the ‘you are the prophesied hero who will defeat the great evil’ trope can be executed in a way that doesn’t make me roll my eyes so hard they fall out.)
One of the things that keep me from giving this book a perfect score is the violence. It’s a very gritty and visceral book, and sometimes it was a bit much for my tastes. I DON’T think, however, that the book should have been toned down. It needed to be the way it is, and thus I am a bit conflicted. It’s a case where my personal sensibilities interfere with my enjoyment of the text, and that is not the author’s fault.
That said, this next thought is going to seem contradictory. The book is rife with fight scenes, all leading up to the ending final confrontation, in all its bloody intensity. I do think, however, that the finale was a bit anti-climactic, as the penultimate fight scene involving some werewolves stole the show. Way more emotionally traumatizing and suspenseful than the actual climax, the werewolf misadventure felt more thematically important and connected to the story as a whole. While not bad by any stretch of the imagination, the final battle then felt a little shoe-horned in.
Now I feel a bit guilty, so let’s end with something I liked. The last couple paragraphs were quite good, leading up to an even more excellent final line. It was a mic-drop moment, and it was fantastic. I love me an emotional send-off from a book, and this one soared upward beautifully. (Did it also literally soar? Well we must wait ’till book 2 to find out!)