Monday, 20 August 2018

Wake of Vultures, by Lila Bowen

          What the Sam Hill have we here??!!  This little book, the first of a series, is bursting with monsters of every stripe and kind.  Shape shifters, werewolves, vampires, unicorns (truly!), harpies, dwarves and cockatrices (that’s a new one on me) crowd the pages and fight for space to be the biggest and baddest in Lila Bowen’s page-turning fantasy set somewhere in the region of West Texas in the 1870’s.  It’s the perfect mix of history and fantasy, so successfully blended that the reader has difficulty distinguishing between fact and Ms Bowen’s boundless imagination, and it’s written in such Good Ole Boy language that I thought I was back in ‘Lonesome Dove’ – Ms Bowen’s all-time favourite TV series.  She knows her onions, as my dear old Gran would say!
Nettie Lonesome works on a rundown property in Durango Territory its owners grandly call a ranch;  the ‘work’ description is laughable too;  she is their slave.  They told her that they found her as a baby, and because they saved her life she must repay them by ‘working’ for her keep – and the ‘keep’ barely keeps her alive.  She can see no change in her miserable existence until her talent for wrangling and training mustangs earns her a job offer at the next property, which is far enough away from Ma and Pa’s decrepit spread, but too obvious for them to come looking for her:  it’s called Hiding in Plain Sight. 
Her life changes dramatically:  she earns a wage (very small)  she is fed well (she can’t believe she can have second and third helpings!), her skills are appreciated and rewarded – but everyone believes that she’s a boy, an error that Nettie does not correct:  in her experience women are only in the background to serve and clean up after men, plus do other things she’d rather not think about – nope, pretending to be a boy is far better.  And for the first time in her young life, she makes friends with her workmates.  What a great feeling!  Life is good.
            Until a dying Indian woman is found crying in the desert, wailing that the Cannibal Owl has stolen all the children of her tribe – and she chooses Nettie as the person who must avenge the dead children and destroy the monster, before all the children in Durango territory are eaten.  She has until the next New Moon to do so. 
            Needless to say Nettie is horrified and understandably reluctant to carry out this new task, especially as she is only a puny girl pretending to be a feller:  she’s not equipped to go up against monsters of any kind, particularly one that eats children by the score, but the Indian woman is persistent, especially after she dies:  she haunts Nettie so persistently that Nettie finally, and with very bad grace, starts her search for the Cannibal Owl – maybe then that Injun will let her get a good night’s sleep!
            This story reminds me of Charlaine Harris’s ‘True Blood’ series, a delicious and successful mix of horror and humour:  dang if I cain’t wait for ‘Conspiracy of Ravens’ – whut’s takin’ it so long??  FIVE STARS!

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