Wake of Vultures (The Shadow Book 1).
4.5 stars out of 5.
Nettie Lonesome dreams of a greater life than toiling as a slave in the sandy desert. But when a stranger attacks her, Nettie wins more than the fight.
Now she’s got friends, a good horse, and a better gun. But if she can’t kill the thing haunting her nightmares and stealing children across the prairie, she’ll lose it all — and never find out what happened to her real family.
I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Wake of Vultures is the story of Nettie Lonesome, a young half-breed girl of both black and Comanche origin who is taken in by Mam and Pap the owners of a rundown ranch in Gloomy Bluebird, a small town in Durango. Nettie isn’t actually a slave to them but due to her colour is treated like one, she cooks, cleans and tends the ranch animals while Pap gets drunk, occasionally going into the town on errands, she has been taught to avoid others, and that due to her skin colour she is worthless and should be grateful that they even deemed her worthy enough to take in as no one else would want a brown-skinned half-breed. Nettie has also learned that along with the colour of her skin being an issue so to is her gender and the fact that she is a female, females generally cook, clean and give birth and are often seen as merely objects for men to do with as they please. And as such, Nettie keeps her chest wrapped and pretends she’s a male.
One night, late, Nettie asleep out side so as not to wake Mam and Pap is confronted by an intruder, a male, Nettie assumes that like all men he wants one thing, however, he’s not just a man and after a struggle, which only ends when she manages to stab him in the heart with a wooden stick, he turns to dust leaving her questioning what happened and what he really was.
Nettie’s only solace from her life of misery with Mam and Pap comes from the Double TK ranch across the way, where she has been going for years to help out and watch the ranch hands. Taken under the wing by Monty an old cowpoke, who knows Nettie’s secret but has never let on referring to her as Nat, she finally gets her chance and is offered a job by the ranch owner Boss Kimble.
Having to hide her true identity but gaining a small sense of self-worth Nettie’s time on the Double TK is sadly cut short due to an unfortunate event. And, Nettie after having killed the stranger can now truly see and can sense what people are hiding, learning that there are more than just humans populating Durango, there are many monsters to.
The monsters, hidden from most by disguising themselves in the guise of normal humans and animals, Nettie can now see the supernatural truth that’s really buried beneath the surface. With her new ability/curse, aided by the Durango Rangers and still hiding who she really is under the disguise of the male Rhett Hennessy, Nettie is haunted by a black water horse being ridden by the ghost of a dead woman pointing her constantly in the direction of her destiny and confrontation with the Cannibal Owl Pia Mupitsi as there are monsters even other monsters fear.
I won’t say more about the story as I like to stay away from spoilers and feel that part of the enjoyment found in a book comes from reading about the story and journey that the character/characters take. Suffice to say that Nettie/Rhett’s journey is filled with action, adventure and self growth as the character struggles with their true identity and accepting themself as we build towards the books conclusion.
The book is set in Durango a fictional area based in America in the late 1800’s. I like westerns and as such found the world building to be top quality. It’s a desolate and barren desert landscape with isolated locations and water in short supply. It’s a western setting populated by a myriad assortment of various monsters, how cool is that! You have the historical with the Old West, the fantastical with the creatures and then the Comanche myth of Pia Mupitsi all merged together into a detailed and realistic setting and it works really well.
I also liked how Bowen blended real history into the story and setting. In the 1800’s the US Rangers were the cause of lots of atrocities against non-whites and that’s shown in the book with them being feared and the bad reputation they garner, they kill and then burn whole towns to the ground leaving no survivors. But, we learn that they are the monster hunters of Durango and they do what needs to be done and kill what needs to be killed.
The characters in Wake of Vultures on the whole are all well thought out ably doing their job and progressing the story, aiding Nettie and accompanying her on her journey. But they are all secondary supporting characters and as such while they are decently developed and you understand most of their motives the book is very much Nettie’s story and as such she is the main focus.
The Captain of the Durango Rangers, Monty the old cowpoke, Winifred, Coyote Dan and Sam Hennessy are the stand out secondary characters in the book with Nettie’s interactions with them all being top quality. After starring in both Bone Tomahawk and The Hateful Eight, I could really picture Kurt Russell playing the role of the grizzled old Captain of the Durango Rangers if the book is turned into a movie.
Nettie Lonesome at times reminded me of both Mattie Ross from True Grit and Elka from Beth Lewis’s awesome The Wolf Road. You as the reader feel sympathetic towards her as she’s had a hard life with hardly any kindness shown to her, from anyone and is weary towards the intentions of others and doesn’t trust easily. She’s an engaging, stubborn and tenacious character with her own unique voice who has both pluck and gumption. As the reader you find yourself really rooting for her during the course of the book.
Nettie/Rhett is a very complex and confused character and in making her a half-breed Black and Comanche main character, Bowen and her book tackles a variety of diverse topics including, racism, self-worth, sexuality, gender equality and identity. All these are things that Nettie/Rhett struggles with throughout the book as she tries to figure out how she feels, where she fits into the world and who she ultimately is. And, while Wake of Vultures is about Nettie/Rhett’s journey and attempt to find and stop Pia Mupitsi. To me it’s also about Nettie/Rhett’s own subsequent journey to discovering and finding his true self.
The various monsters in Wake of Vultures are all the standard assortment you will find: Shape shifters, Skin Walkers, Vampires, Dwarves, Werewolves, Harpies, Sirens and Chupacabra. And, then we have the main monster in Pia Mupitsi. The Cannibal Owl is absent for a large part of the book, kept in the background, stoking the fear and the feeling of dread until it is finally revealed towards the end of the book.
The writing in the book is really good, Bowen has a decent straight to the point style that really pulls you in and Nettie’s voice and oftentimes blunt narration are enjoyable to read. Nettie uses a couple of terms that might cause some slight offence as they are not what is deemed to be politically correct nowadays and are classed as derogatory, Injun and Indian. I wouldn’t normally comment on the usage as I have no problem with language in books, especially when it’s authentic to the setting but I have decided to, as in the author notes section at the back of the book Bowen seemed to feel that she had to justify her use of the terms and felt the need to mention them, writing that Native American wasn’t a term that was used until the 1960’s and that with how Nettie was raised she wouldn’t know any other way to refer to them. I have to mirror Bowen’s thoughts, echoing her sentiments exactly that, ‘the best term to use is whatever the person in question damn well prefers‘ on the off-chance that anyone has or does take offence as it’s obvious when reading the book that none is meant. The terms feel natural to Nettie’s voice, she is unschooled and doesn’t know her letters so she’s not going to sound all eloquent as it wouldn’t feel right for her character and the usage by other characters during the book merely aids in showing the discrimination of the time. For me using terminology common to the era that the book is set simply adds to the authenticity.
On a whole the pacing is also good, nothing drags as Bowen moves the story along from location to location, but at times it also felt slightly rushed and while we often lament books for their excessive page count, I’d have liked to have seen an extra 50 pages added to the length, ideally at the beginning so we could have gotten to spend more time with Nettie on the Double TK ranch, as I felt her time there was cut short to early.
This really is a good book that I thoroughly enjoyed and I can’t wait to continue Nettie’s story with the sequel Conspiracy of Ravens. A great setting, a captivating main character who you really care for, decent supporting characters, a good story that pulls you in from the first page through to the last and monsters in a western environment! Yes, I know I wrote that earlier but it needs repeating as it’s so cool! Fans of western, historical fiction, fantasy and diverse books will all find alot to like in Wake of Vultures so, unhitch your horse, saddle up and get to reading!
Purchase Wake of Vultures:
Follow me on: