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Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen

Wake of Vultures - Lila Bowen

I’ll begin with a disclaimer: this isn’t my type of book, though from its marketing I thought it might be. First, because while it has a fantasy plotline, the setting and tone are more horror-tinged paranormal, full of monsters and gruesomeness. Second, because it really is a young-adult novel, in the sense of being an easy-to-read, action-oriented adventure populated by simplified characters and featuring a 16-year-old Chosen One who is unrealistically functional for her age and life experience, with a heavy emphasis on People Are Different and That’s Okay. Adding a couple of sexual assault scenes doesn’t make an adult novel of something not written in an adult register; it just means your YA is dark and risqué.

At any rate, this book follows a standard fantasy plotline: Nettie, a mistreated orphan of mysterious parentage who is shunned in her town, discovers supernatural powers, loses her mentor, learns she is the Chosen One, and goes on a quest to defeat an evil villain. The setting is interesting – an alternate version of the Old West, specifically Texas around the 1870s – and the author tries hard to make the book diverse: Nettie is part-black, part-native, bisexual, and genderqueer. This effort is in my view only moderately successful: the characterization overall is not particularly deep or complex; Nettie doesn’t have any consensual sexual encounters or a relationship; and Nettie’s racial heritage functions mostly just as the reason people are occasionally mean to her. She was raised by white people and the only important non-white characters in the book are two native siblings who, in the traditional role of irritating fantasy allies, are much more knowledgeable, skilled and committed than the protagonist but inexplicably pop in and out of the story rather than sticking around long enough to be helpful, presumably because if they simply took over the quest there wouldn’t be much action left for the clueless young protagonist. But this is better than including no diversity at all.

It’s an action/adventure type of book, with a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter and even a literal one at the end of the novel (I read the preview of the sequel online to satisfy my curiosity, which does not extend to reading another book). The narrative is full of “cowboy” talk: “The Rangers were doing their level best to give off an air of relaxation and ease, but any feller with sense could see that underneath the calm they were jittery as junebugs at a jaybird party.” At least the author has committed to her setting.

Overall, this isn’t a book that did much for me; I’d have appreciated more interesting characters or a plot that contained more than a quest to kill a monster, with something or other attacking our heroes every chapter. But if you like dark paranormal YA with a dash of horror and don’t mind the standard fantasy plot, this book may well be for you.