Conspiracy of Ravens by Lila Bowen. ★★★1/2
Conspiracy of Ravens is the sequel to Lila Bowen’s weird Western fantasy novel, Wake of Vultures. While I would suggest reading the books in order, the plots are such that you could feasibly get away with reading Conspiracy of Ravens first. However, you would be missing out on the ongoing character arcs. This review will contain spoilers for the first book, so read at your own risk.
After jumping off the cliff at the end of Wake of Vultures, our protagonist has experienced some monumental self-discovery. For one, he’s realized that he is Rhett and a man, and the narrative no longer uses she/her pronouns. For another, he’s a shapeshifter. Once he resumes human form, he meets Earl O’Bannon, an Irish shifter who is desperate need of the Rangers. A railroad baron has been trapping monsters inside his camp and stealing body parts from them. This sounds like a job for the Shadow and his friends.
Structurally, Conspiracy of Ravens was a lot more cohesive than the first book. It felt like much more of a unified plot and less like a monster of a week type format. While Rhett still had encounters with other creatures along his way to the railroad camp (noticeably a scene that felt like an homage to The Last Unicorn), it felt like one book instead of a series of strung together encounters.
In the first book, I had been reading the protagonist as genderqueer, but Conspiracy of Ravens makes it clear that Rhett is a transman. He is no longer referred to as “Nettie” and the narrative uses he/him pronouns instead of she/her.
However, I’m actually not a huge fan of Rhett. He’s sort of a jerk. Maybe part of it is that he’s somewhat lacking in social skills? But he’s also got more than a little sexism in him. I was hoping to see him grow on this front, but it doesn’t really happen in this book. It seems more like whenever he meets an admirable female character (and Winifred is totally awesome) he categorizes her as an exception to the general passiveness and weakness that is womankind. But the sexism does feel more like a character trait than a narrative trait, if that makes any sense. Anyway, I’m still hoping that Rhett will have some character growth in this area in future books.
My other complaint is that Rhett has way too many love interests. Look, I’m not a reader who’s a fan of love triangles, so a book with three love interests? Urgh, no thanks. I hope things get resolved fairly soon, because I’m tired of romance drama.
All that said, I am definitely reading book three. I think Conspiracy of Ravens actually made some improvements upon the first book, and I’m excited to see where the series will go from here.
I received an ARC of Conspiracy of Ravens from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.