Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Book Review: Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen

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. She knows of nothing else. That is, until the day a stranger attacks her. When nothing, not even a sickle to the eye can stop him, Nettie stabs him through the heart with a chunk of wood and he turns to black sand.
And just like that, Nettie can see.
But her newfound sight is a blessing and a curse. Even if she doesn't understand what's under her own skin, she can sense what everyone else is hiding - at least physically. The world is full of evil, and now she knows the source of all the sand in the desert. Haunted by the spirits, Nettie has no choice but to set out on a quest that might lead her to find her true kin . . . if the monsters along the way don't kill her first.

I first came across Wake of Vultures when the author (Delilah Dawson, writing under the pseudonym Lila Bowen) tweeted the following:

I immediately went out and pre-ordered it because hell, I didn't need to know anything else. That sounds AWESOME. Took me a while to get round to actually reading it though (not because of anything to do with this book, but because I spent most of the first half of the year mired in fanfiction and not reading much of anything else). When I did start reading it I ripped through the bugger in about two days.

Nettie Lonesome is an awesome character. Half-back, half-Native American growing up in a predominantly white community that isn't all that friendly to her. All she really wants is to grow up to be a horse wrangler and for people to see her as a boy. (The book uses predominantly she/her pronouns for Nettie even though she presents as male and tells a lot of the other characters she's male. Her relationship with gender is complex and watching her figure herself out is a big part of the book.)

Her life goes from being terrible to being awesome for two weeks and then it gets terrible again as she struggles under the weight of Destiny. A creature called the Cannibal Owl is hunting people and she may be the only one who can kill it. For the longest time she wants nothing to do with her destiny and everything she does to try to get away from it only brings her closer to it. In the end she just has to go "fuck it" and do what she has to do. It's a bit Babylon 5 in that respect.

This was another book that gave me a real sense of "you can't end it like that!" (Although come to think of it, three of the four books I'v read lately that made me do that were book one of a trilogy, so a++ effort in making me want more I guess.) There are so many questions asked that don't get answered, and some Nettie decides don't need an answer. Along the way she gets to grow into herself, the colour of her skin, her sexuality, her gender. She realises the world isn't black and white, it's infinite shades of grey and actually that's okay, because she's a lot of shades of grey herself.

Needless to say I'll be getting the next book, Conspiracy of Ravens, as soon as it's  out. I need to know what happens to Nettie and her friends.

One of my biggest issues with this book is the way Nettie binds her chest. She uses something like bandages and binds basically 24/7, which is realisitic for the rough era its set in (and for someone figuring out this sort of stuff on her own with no guidance) but it does make me worry. This is the sort of book that could potentially help young trans/nonbinary/genderqueer folk come into themselves the way Nettie does, and I do worry about the example it sets with the binding.

The only other real issue I have is that there's a sexual assault about three quarters of the way through. Nettie walks into the situation willingly, knowing what's likely to happen, and it has a satisfying resolution, but it's still there. People should be aware of it going in so they can avoid those chapters (which are fairly well flagged) if need be.

All in all this was a rip roaring read. I don't normally like things in the general Western genre (possibly a lot of Western movies have ruined me by being so damn slow) but this was a great book. The pacing is great and there's a real sense of a threat as we barrel towards the final battle. As I said earlier, some questions are answered but some are left over for the next installment. I definitely recommend hanging out with Nettie Lonesome.

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