Conspiracy of Ravens by Lila Bowen
|Book Name:||Conspiracy of Ravens|
|Formatt:||Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook|
|Genre(s):||YA Fantasy Western|
|Release Date:||October 11, 2016|
Spoiler Warning: This review contains mild spoilers for Wake of Vultures. Please read with caution if you have yet to finish the first book.
Conspiracy of Ravens, by Lila Bowen (AKA Delilah S. Dawson), gives me exactly what I want in a sequel. Everything I loved in book one of the series, Wake of Vultures, gets a little bit richer, a little bit deeper, and a little more complex: more characters, more monsters, a wider world, darker magic. And like any good sequel, I’m left to wait for the next book in the series.
Book two takes up just where book one ends. Rhett Hennessey, Texas Ranger and shapeshifter, has become the Shadow, a powerful, terrible monster built for two things: helping those in need and killing monsters who are evil. He’s come a long way from where we first met him. Back then, Rhett was Nettie Lonesome, a de facto slave longing to break free and break horses. When book two opens, Nettie is no more. It’s not a matter of dressing like a man or pretending to be a man. Rhett has embraced and accepted who he truly is and made peace with how others see him (or don’t). Rhett is just beginning to explore the consequences of being comfortable in his skin (both human and bird) when he meets Earl O’Bannon. Earl is also a shapeshifter (a donkey) who escaped from Mr. Trevisian, a railroad baron laying tracks west to Calafia while also maiming and killing the monsters he keeps as laborers.
Rhett leads a posse that also includes his fellow Rangers Sam and Coyote Dan, and Dan’s sister Winifred. Together, they set out to take down Trevisian and save the brother Earl left behind. Along the way, they tangle with the blood magic of small gods, the cruelty of witches, the corruption of law enforcement, and the dark alchemy of Mr. Trevisian himself.
I’ll admit it: growing up, I didn’t much care for westerns. My dad is a fan, and tried to expose me to the genre, but it never took. I guess all that was missing was magic and monsters, because, for some reason, I’ve really enjoyed weird westerns lately. Maybe it’s the idea of fantasy existing in a not-medieval and not-present-day setting. Maybe it’s the idea of existing on the frontier: that edge between settled and wild, between mundane and magical. Either way, Conspiracy of Ravens tickled me just right. I mean, how could I not like a book that features a prim sasquatch desperate to get back to the great white north, a mining town populated by dwarves, and six-shooters filled with silver bullets? How can you not think of the deserts of the southwestern U.S. in a new way when monsters turn to sand when killed?
But even if you are unsure whether a western might be your thing, you should read Conspiracy of Ravens for Bowen’s characters. I know when some people hear talk of a biracial, bisexual, gender-fluid protagonist, or secondary characters who are people of color, women, immigrants, queer, and disabled, they might reject the book as PC box-checking. Alternatively, some might worry that Bowen has written shallow stereotypes. Thankfully, Bowen has created characters who have depth and complexity. Her westerns don’t focus on the white sheriff who brings civilization at gunpoint. Her westerns shine a light where most don’t.
Even a world populated with monsters and peppered with magic, there are still racists and sexists, and Bowen allows her characters to confront them, as well as her characters’ own internal struggles with identity. And as the series progresses, the characters find a strength in knowing who they are, accepting who they are. There is nuance and heart here. It’s rare to see characters like this in westerns, and even YA, so I much appreciated what Bowen did here.
But there is one more character I should call attention to: Mr. Trevisian. While I might have appreciated getting to Mr. Trevisian a bit sooner, I enjoyed him as the creepy villain—a confident dandy who will not hesitate to take what he wants from those who don’t have the power to stop him, a man who uses his treasure and magic to benefit himself at the expense of others. Perhaps I’m revealing too much about my personal politics, but given the recent election in America, I was eager for Rhett to kick Trevisian’s ass and make him pay.
And really, that’s what it all comes down to: a tough Ranger out to right wrongs and deliver justice. Conspiracy of Ravens is a fun, fantastical escape from the real world that I needed. If you’re looking for something new—whether a new setting, a new sub-genre, or a new cast of characters, pick up Bowen’s Shadow books. I think you’ll be mighty pleased you did.