Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen

(Brief disclaimer. I used non-gender specific pronouns-they, them, their-to refer to Nettie throughout the course of this review, which is not something that I’m terribly accustomed to, so it can lead to things feeling a little stinted here and there. I’d apologize, but I’m not sorry about it at all).

Hey, guess what?

I read a book and actually liked it! Hurray! I have good things to say about it! Double hurray!

So this is one of the books I picked up while gleefully burning my way through my yearly holiday bookstore gift card fortune (you know, the one that comes in twenty and thirty dollar amounts from relatives you’ve only met once, but who still feel obliged to send you something, even though the only thing that they know about you, besides your name, is that you’re “kinda bookish”?). I landed on this one because the cover art gave me a strong Miriam Black by Chuck Wendig vibe, and when I picked it up to inspect it, I saw that not only was there a recommendation from Mr. Wendig himself, but that Patrick Rothfuss had done a little blurb for the book as well.

Done. Sold. I’m in.

And it was so good! There were a few issues, ones that I’ll get into later on after I’ve gushed a bit, but I had such a fun time with this book. It was fast-paced and witty and absorbing, with a set of unique and fully fleshed out characters, the best of which was the main, Nettie Lonesome. Nettie is one of the most original fantasy novel protagonists I’ve come across in a good long while. A non gender binary, bisexual, POC, gun toting monster hunter? Yes, more of that, please and thank you.

I’ve talked a little about this before, but I love it when authors, especially genre authors (because that’s most of what I read and love) try and bring a new perspective into their stories, rather than the same old stale stuff. Nettie has some pretty valuables lessons to teach the teens this book was aimed at. Don’t let people intimidate you and don’t take their shit, don’t let anybody tell you what you are and what you aren’t, and don’t worry too much about the way you feel about other people. Do they fall into the categories of people that are acceptable for you to be attracted to? And if not, what does that make you? Nettie doesn’t give a shit, and neither should you. If you love somebody (and everybody is of consenting age and nobody is getting hurt), you love them, and don’t let anybody around you make you feel weird about it. I’ll grant that maybe the messages were laid on a little thick from time to time, (there’s a good deal of inner monologuing from Nettie laying out exactly why they’re confused and upset, exactly what the problem appears to be, and then resolutely coming to the conclusion that they’re going to do whatever it is they damn well please), but the message is important, and it’s not so bad it yanks you out of the story.

However, there were a few issues with the book that I found a little harder to get past. Not a lot! And you should still read it! But the name “review” barely applies to what I do on this site as is, and if I skip over the stuff I didn’t like just so I could recommend it full-heartedly, I’ll have to change my name to “Very Biased And Sometimes Dishonest Rambler About Stuff”, which would make introducing myself at dinner parties even more tedious than it already is. Anyways! I digress. The main issues that I found in this novel seemed to be ones of location and pacing (and sometimes plotting).

Now, by location I don’t mean setting, the setting was fine, and the geographical location of things has never really been something that’s tripped me up. It was more about the location of objects and important things within the story. Keeping track of things, so to speak. Sometimes items were brought up and highlighted, and then completely forgotten about, only to be brought up and used again when needed. Nettie gets a sharp, silver knife from the beastie that attacks them at the beginning of the story, but then when they’re wandering through the desert and need a weapon later on, Nettie forgets all about it. So I think, okay, maybe Nettie lost it or something, left it behind when they fled the ranch, but then boom! at the end of the novel when Nettie needs something made of silver, there it is. That happens a couple of times throughout (where did the vampire’s gun go? Why did he never use it? etc.). It was never really enough to ruin it for me, but it did cause my brow to furrow a time or two.

It wasn’t just items that the author seemed to lose track of sometimes, but people within scenes as well. There was a part where Nettie is fighting a Siren, and while Nettie is walking across a room towards the creature, the rangers manage to ride up, dismount, enter the same room as they’re in, and somehow one of them gets to the Siren before Nettie can stop him. Why did it take Nettie so long to cross the room, and not the Ranger? It says Nettie tried to catch him, but can’t. So how did the ranger get past them? Nettie entered through the same door as he did, and they’re crossing the same room. It seems like a pretty small quibble, but it’s actually kind of important. The audience needs to be able to trust that the author knows what they’re doing, that they know what’s going on and where everything is and we’re just along for the ride. Every time we get that dissonance of “that doesn’t really make sense” or “where did that thing they brought up before go?” it undermines that trust, and removes us from the story a little.

The next issue for me was the pacing of the novel. I know it was set at a breakneck pace for a reason, that the novel is set within the confines of a very specific time frame (between one full moon and the next), but I couldn’t help but wonder if the framing device was necessary, and if this novel wouldn’t have benefited from a little more room to breath. As it is, Nettie goes from sort of slave to ranch hand to professional monster hunter in the span of maybe two weeks, I think a little less, and in that same span of time goes from never having seen a monster before to bumping into dozens of the things (that also leads you to wonder, if there are so many of the god damn things everywhere, why aren’t they more common knowledge? I know they don’t look like monsters to regular people until you kill one of them, but with the sheer amount out there you’d think the cat would’ve been let out of the bag a long time ago). It all just seems a little hurried, and that feeling of being rushed along undermines most of the impact of any of their losses. Nettie loses the life that they love on the ranch, but you never really got the feeling that they were sinking into it because they only did it for like three days. You don’t have to make to make it any longer, word count or page wise, the novel was pretty much the perfect length, but just devote a paragraph or two to explaining how time flew by as Nettie settled into the role of ranch hand, that the months they spent at the ranch were the best of Nettie’s life etc etc. That way, when Nettie is forced to leave, you get a real sense of loss. Here it’s just kind of “oh well, that was lame, onto the next thing for Nettie!”

The last thing I’ll say before I wrap this up (this has been waaaay longer than I thought it was going to be), is that some of the plotting doesn’t reaaaally make sense. So, why does Nettie go alone with the werewolves? Why do the werewolves trade Rangers for Nettie when they could just kill Sam? Why would they ever let any of the Rangers go, when the Rangers are clearly enemies that will hunt them again? How does that in any way seem like a good idea? It doesn’t make any sense, at all, and seemed more to me like the author just wanted to put Nettie into a bad spot, alone with the werewolves, to have them be sexually aggressive and gross to Nettie, and then have them pull out of it at the end, and she couldn’t think of a better way to do it.

Okay, now, having done the thing that I do (pick things apart relentlessly, because that’s just the way that my brain works) I want to re-assure you that this is actually a recommendation. The book was fast, fun, and kick-ass, the protagonist was great, the concept was inventive, the execution was shaky, but pretty good, and overall I had a helluva time with this book. If you’re looking for something thrilling, something that will suck you in and spit you out, bruised and battered and grinning, then pick this novel up. You won’t regret it.

Sincerest regards and bestest of all wishes,

VBR

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