Wake of Vultures

Written by Lila Bowen
Review by Linnea Tanner

Nettie Lonesome is the adopted “half-black and half-Injun daughter” of a white couple who raise her more like a slave than their own kin in the backdrop of the Durango territory in the 1870s. Tough-minded, she breaks broncos with a gentle hand, but does not shy away defending herself from a demonic apparition that transforms into sand when she kills it.

A cowhand impressed by Nettie’s horsemanship helps her find a job rustling cattle and thus gives her the means to escape her miserable life in disguise as a boy. Soon after taking on ranch duties, she helps doctor a wounded Indian woman whose baby has been stolen in the middle of the night by the owl monster Pia Mupitsi. After the woman dies, she reappears on a horse in a vision and points west, demanding Nettie avenge the death of her baby. Joining rangers, Nettie goes on a quest to slay Pia Mupitsi, but she must first overcome a menagerie of monsters—vampires, siren-vultures, and werewolves. Along the way, she slowly learns to accept herself and understand her self-worth with the guidance of shape-shifting friends.

Though the dialogue realistically captures the dialect of the Old West, there is scant historical background. Nonetheless, Lila Bowen skillfully captures the voice of the protagonist Nellie in this fast-paced, gut-wrenching odyssey. Yet there is an underlying social message that everyone should accept each other for who they are. Wake of Vultures is a dark fantasy sprinkled with the gritty but underlying heartfelt tone of Lonesome Dove.