Review: Conspiracy of Ravens by Lila Bowen

Conspiracy of Ravens
By: Lila Bowen
Release Date: October 11, 2016
Publisher: Orbit
Series: The Shadow #2
Received From: Publisher
(All reviews are our own, honest opinions.)

I loved almost everything about Wake of Vultures, the first book in The Shadow series by Lila Bowen. I loved the protagonist, the world it was set in, and the side characters. With the cliffhanger ending I knew I needed to read the next one as quickly as possible. When I got an early copy of Conspiracy of Ravens, the second book of the series, I was initially ecstatic. So why, then did it sit at a measly 7% read on my kindle for months and months on end?

Because Conspiracy of Ravens in no way holds up to Wake of Vultures.

If you’d like a more in depth explanation of why I liked the first book feel free to check out my review of Wake of Vultures.

Before I begin lamenting over a very unsatisfying part two of a story which once was wonderful, let me tell you a bit of the plot.

The story picks up pretty much where the first book left off. Rhett (née Nettie) had transformed into a giant bird of prey, larger than any usual vulture, and is lost among the desert sands with a mind that isn’t entirely her own. With the help of Earl O’Bannon, Rhett gains a better hold over his powers, learns more about himself. In return, he’ll accompany Earl to the Rangers so they can go and take down the man Earl escaped from, a terrifying man who tortures and murders the men building an unmapped railroad.

Before I begin spilling gripe after gripe, lets talk about the things the book did well, shall we?

The one thing that stands out is when Rhett comes to terms with who he is. The prose shifts from the use of feminine pronouns to describe Rhett, who, while externally calling herself Rhett still internally refers to herself as Nettie, to using male pronouns. This distinction marked a change that no beautifully written prose nor any number of paragraphs could hope to achieve. As this was early in the book, I had high hopes. But something wasn’t clicking for me, though I couldn’t see it quite yet.

But I dug back into the book some months later. I liked Earl, one of the side characters introduced in this book. Even if he was snippy and rude at times, I liked him. I understood him. And, towards the end, he was the character I sympathized with and connected with the most. Why? Like me, he couldn’t understand why Rhett was screwing around (literally and figuratively) for the last several hundred pages when his brother and hundreds of others were being worked to death, maimed, and killed at the hands of a literal monster that needed to be destroyed.

This is one of my largest gripes with the book. It isn’t an interesting story. This is a story about walking. The vast majority of the book is Rhett and the others walking or riding to where the action is while getting distracted by what I can only call RPG side quests along the way. One of which wasn’t needed at all, did nothing to further the story, and set up the most convoluted, stupid closing pages I may have ever read.

Speaking of this section, the book does some things that I really can’t stand at all. It touched on a pet peeve I can’t stand, one that’s festered for so long I’m not sure calling it a mere pet peeve is the right words anymore. I have hated the ‘lets make everyone forget the last several chapters with magic because dealing is hard’ thing since I read Silver on the Tree by Susan Cooper when I was about nine years old. Almost twenty years later it’s almost enough to me a drop a book. The entire section was completely unnecessary. Because everyone forgot the events, complicated things are never dealt with. Important turn of events are swept under the rug (because no one remembers them but for Rhett and Dan) and what could possibly lead to decent character development only leads to a convoluted, unnecessary mess.

The other major side quest Rhett rushes off on was, much like the first, also almost completely unnecessary. The only thing that was relevant plot wise was the Deus Ex Machina like magic dust. That’s right, magic dust. It’s completely necessary for the actual plot part of the book (when we finally meander there), it’s never explained, and we never really think about it again. The most disappointing thing about this section is that it could have been a much more poignant moment. There could have been much more than the halfhearted attempt at character development that we got.

Now, I loved the first book. And I loved the first book mostly because of Nettie. I like that Rhett knows himself better. I like that he really has an identity, that he feels more himself, that he understands himself better. What I don’t like (and don’t understand) is the complete personality change. If someone unfamiliar with the series read a passage using Nettie and she pronouns from the first book and a passage using Rhett and male pronouns from the second, I find it hard to believe that they would identify them as passages about the same character. The vast majority of the time Rhett is a complete asshole. Why? I mean, yes, the events of the last book may have been a bit traumatic for him. But Rhett wasn’t the only one to suffer. Surely Winifred, Dan, and Sam have gone through a lot as well. Most of the time Rhett came off as mean, surly, and generally becoming something akin to the men he hated the most in the first book.

As much as Rhett is hard headed and stubborn, he really needed more character growth. Or, at the bare minimum, more consistency with the prior book. At one point Sam, completely frustrated after one of Rhett’s totally unnecessary escapades, asks if Rhett realizes that he can trust them. And I understand Sam’s pain. After everything they’ve gone through, all the times where Rhett did trust them, the times he put his life in their hands, and now he runs off on his own, makes rash decisions with out them and only ever has a ‘I just have, my gut made me do it’ explanation?

The thing I disliked the most about Rhett’s personality flip? All the sleeping around.

First, it doesn’t feel at all consistent with Rhett’s views in the first book. I understand he feels more himself, understands himself better, but that doesn’t mean a sudden and complete flip of his views on love and being comfortable with other people like that make any kind of sense. I do not understand in the slightest how Rhett can claim to love one character and sleep around with two others. I mean, there are only five or so other characters who factor in heavily in the narrative in the first place. At this point Rhett’s been with more of his friends than not.

It just pisses me off. That’s all.

In the end, this book left me bitterly disappointed. I came to hate a character I previously adored. The plot was barely there, instead leaving a slow, rambling mess that didn’t even attempt to make up for the books poor handling of characters. The series could have very easily been tied up neatly at the end of book one – a couple of extra chapters would have been all it took. If you haven’t guessed, I’m not going to be continuing with the series. Not unless a miracle happens. If you don’t mind trope-y books or really want to see where this series leads, maybe check this one out. If you don’t like unexplained personality shifts, love triangle (quadrangles?), and lots of book with little plot, do yourself a favor and don’t pick this one up.

Read If:
You like stories featuring LGBTQIA+ main characters; You want to see where this series leads

Don't Read If:
You don't like love triangles (or quadangles), You don't like books about walking, You want consistent characterization

About author

Kathleen Townsend

Kate writes things, reads things, and writes about things she reads. She’s had a few short stories published, and works as a freelance editor. Favorite genres include epic & high fantasy, science fiction, time travel stories, video game related tales, light novels, and manga.

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