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 into black sand.
And just like that, Nettie can see.
But her newfound ability 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 to her true kin… if the monsters along the way don’t kill her first.”
Until recently, I hadn’t really read much in the western genre. It just isn’t my thing. With the rise of the Weird West sub-genre, though, I’ve started branching out and seeing what it’s like. This particular book was one that I saw had gotten a starred review in Publishers Weekly, and the premise sounded intriguing, so I picked it up.
Initially, I had a little trouble getting into the story, and I’m not sure why. I think it may have been because Nettie doesn’t get the chance to settle in with one group of people for a good chunk of the book and is hopping from character to character pretty quickly. Some of what makes her the unique person that she is comes from playing off of those around her, and so until she had people to interact with on a more regular basis, I felt like she was hard to get a handle on.
But at about a third of way the into the novel, I got hooked and blew through the rest rapidly. By that point, the story had a firm direction, some great characters had been established, and the plot took off. There were just enough encounters with supernatural creatures to keep the story feeling like fantasy, but not enough to overwhelm the Wild West setting.
Although the plot is definitely interesting, what made the novel so strong was its exploration of identity. Nettie’s half-breed lineage makes it hard for her to fit in among most communities, and thus she not only becomes self-sufficient but also has to learn how to relate to people being nice to her. Even more interesting is how Nettie identifies more as male than as female. It puts her at another level of remove from those around her. Having to hide her female form, as well as having to endure taunts for her skin color, mirrors her struggles to inhabit her inner self.
I may have had to push through the early chapters of this book, but by the end I was eager to see what comes next. Luckily, this appears to be the first in a series, so I should get more of Nettie’s story in the future. Give this one a chance, even if it lags at first–it will pay off in the end.
This book was a personal purchase.
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)