TL, DR: Vultures and coyotes, railway men and Durango rangers, shapeshifters, magic, revolvers and carrion; the second in the Shadow series soars through them all, while exploring the character’s experience closely. Recommend.
Conspiracy of Ravens begins where Wake of Vultures left of, and this review contains spoilers for that book. You’ve been warned: HERE BE MONST – Uh, wait… HERE BE SPOILERS.
Rhett Hennessey begins Conspiracy of Ravens not knowing what sort of critter he is. It sets the tone for the book, with Rhett coming to terms not just with being the Shadow, but understanding himself. Rhett makes a series of choices in his first test as a leader, trekking across Durango with a stray Irishman, a posse of Durango Rangers and some tagalongs. They’re questing to put an end to the cruel work of malignant railroad chief, Trevisan. It begins right where Wake of Vultures left off, with Nettie in free fall off a cliff.
In the second chapter of Ravens Bowen changes the pronouns that she uses for Nettie – it’s a deliberate act on the character’s behalf – and Nettie goes from Nettie to Rhett. It’s a seemingly small change that had a stark, profound effect on me as a reader. My mental image of Rhett immediately changed. I imagined differences in the way that Rhett walked, talked and stood, and it drove home to me the importance of using the correct pronouns for people, real or imaginary.
I think if I had any complaint at all about the book, it would be that it takes too long for the bad guy to make any moves. It takes a long time before the railroad chief gets involved in the story, and we know very little about him by the end. He’s sinister enough in a general way, and we can hate him on principle for being the antagonist, but it would have been nice to have had him on the page sooner to really work up a good loathing.
Durango is a vibrant place, filled with all manner of adventure and mythological creatures. I’ve always loved that so many myths and folk tales seem to create an analogous world to ours, existing alongside it in the mind, but that’s ultimately unreachable. I really enjoy seeing an alternate history take on the wild west that asks ‘what if all those myths and folk tales were real?’ and does an excellent job of portraying a convincing world where that’s true.
Where Wake of Vultures of was a faster paced romp through the prairie, Ravens can be slower at times, as we take longer to mosey with Rhett and the other characters and understand them better.
There are all sorts of beasts and monsters (some human) in Durango territory, and it’s a pleasure to travel across it with Hennessey’s posse.
Conspiracy of Ravens by Lila Bowen, released in 2016 by Orbit Books.