Cowgirl becomes Buffy in the Wild Weird West, and then discovers it’s okay to be gay or bi-sexual. A 21st century PC fantasy for the modern hip teen. That pretty much sums up Wake Of Vultures.
Nettie Lonesome is half black and half Native American. She was “adopted” at a very young age by a white couple and grew up working their farm pretty much as their slave, since they don’t treat her like family. One night she is attacked by a strange man and when she drives a stake into his chest, he turns to sand. From that point on, Nettie can see monsters, and her world is full of them. She encounters vampires (some of whom are prostitutes) and werewolves, as well as creatures like sirens and harpies.
The rest of a book is Nettie’s journey to kill something call the Cannibal Owl, a creature that is stealing children during each new moon. It is also a journey of Nettie’s self-identity. When she leaves the farm after killing the vampire, dressing and living as a boy makes it easier for her work as a ranch hand and later as a Ranger.
She also learns about race, gender, sexuality. The constant “be who you want to be, don’t be who they tell you to be” theme comes across as heavy-handed and preachy. I could have done with less of that, and more exploration of the world Nettie lives.
In her afterword, the author states, “some of the themes in Wake of Vultures will cause outrage.” I guess that’s because the book is targeted toward the YA market and maybe some parents and school officials will find the book “offensive” due to its theme of tolerance. Maybe, but not likely. In our current media climate, more folks are attacked for NOT being tolerant than otherwise.
All that being said, Wake of Vultures was a quick, enjoyable read, and an interesting take on updating some paranormal tropes. Here’s hoping Bowen will explore and expand that Wild Weird West in further books.
Tom Delaney was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1889 and raised at the Jenkins Orphanage. Founded in 1891 by Rev. Daniel Jenkins, it became one of the most successful orphanages for black children in the South. One of the most famous features of the orphanage was the Jenkins Band, which performed military marching music on street corners and “passed-the-hat” for donations. Delaney performed with the band until 1910. At age 21 he was living in New York City and working as a “whorehouse professor,” playing piano, writing songs and singing in saloons, gin joints and whorehouses in the seedy sections of Manhattan.
His first big break came when he was thirty-two years old, in 1921. Delaney’s song “Jazz Me Blues” attracted the attention of professional musicians and, more importantly, people who owned recording studios. They were always looking for songs to record, especially now that there was money to be made with “black” songs. “Jazz Me Blues” combined risqué lyrics about sex with a swinging ragtime feel.
The year before, 1920, Perry Bradford convinced a New York record company to record a “black blues” song. Mamie Smith recorded Bradford’s “Crazy Blues.” It sold more than a million copies in less than a year. Suddenly, “black blues” songs were hot. Delaney had written hundreds of blues songs by then, so he began to peddle them to record companies.
During this time he met a young singer named Ethel Waters. She performed in vaudeville shows for years as a dancer billed as “Sweet Mama Stringbean.” Waters, however, preferred singing to dancing, and on March 21, 1921, she recorded two of Delaney’s songs for the Pace & Handy Music Company, “Down Home Blues” and “At The Jump Steady Ball.” A twenty-three year old former chemistry student named Fletcher Henderson played the piano for the session. “Down Home Blues” became a hit. Pace & Handy paired Waters and Delaney together and sent them out on tour, Waters on vocals and Delaney on piano.
Two months later an act called Lillyn Brown and Her Jazz-Bo Syncopaters recorded “Jazz Me Blues.” That was followed quickly by an instrumental version of the song by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. Both versions sold thousands of copies. Through the years more than 100 of Delaney’s songs were recorded by the most popular artists of the day. “Jazz Me Blues” became a standard recorded by Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Bix Beiderbecke, Count Basie, Jack Teagarden and Benny Goodman.
“Jazz Me Blues” lyrics
Down in Louisiana in that sunny clime, They play a class of music that is super fine, And it makes no difference if it’s rain or shine, You can hear that jazzin’ music playin’ all the time.
It sounds so peculiar ’cause it’s really queer, How its sweet vibrations seems to fill the air, Then to you the whole world seems to be in rhyme; You’ll want nothin’ else but jazzin’, jazzin’ all the time.
Every one that I ever came to spy, hear them loudly cry: Oh, jazz me! Come on, Professor, and jazz me! Jazz me! You know I like my dancing both day and night, And if I don’t get my jazzin’, I don’t feel right, Now if it’s ragtime, take a lick, play it in jazz time, Jazz time! Don’t want it fast, don’t want it slow; Take your time, Professor, play it sweet and low! I got those doggone, low-down jazz-me jazz-me blues!
Jazz me! Come on, Professor, and jazz me! Jazz me! You know I like my dancing both day and night, And if I don’t get my jazzin’, I don’t feel right, Now if it’s ragtime, take a lick, play it in jazz time, Jazz time! Don’t want it fast, don’t want it slow; Take your time, Professor, play it sweet and low! I got those doggone, low-down jazz-me, jazz-me blues!
To read the entire story of “Jazz Me Blues” and the beginning of American popular music read Mark’s book, Doin’ The Charleston: Black Roots of American Popular Music & the Jenkins Orpahange Legacy.
When Kate Pierce-Keller’s grandmother gives her a strange blue medallion and claims to be a member of a time travel group from the future named CHRONOS, sixteen-year-old Kate assumes the old woman is delusional. But it all becomes horrifyingly real when a murder in the past destroys the foundation of Kate’s present-day life. Suddenly, that medallion is the only thing protecting Kate from blinking out of existence.
Kate learns that the 1893 killing is part of something much more sinister, and her genetic ability to time travel makes Kate the only one who can fix the future. Risking everything, she travels back in time to the Chicago World’s Fair to try to prevent the murder and the chain of events that follows.
Changing the timeline comes with a personal cost—if Kate succeeds, the boy she loves will have no memory of her existence. And regardless of her motives, does Kate have the right to manipulate the fate of the entire world?
So … sounds good, entertaining and fascinating. Also, there are more than 1600 five-star reviews on Amazon for this book and the author, Rysa Walker, was awarded the Amazon Breakthrough Novel in 2013, so I decided to give it a shot.
First of all, for all the acclaim – it’s pretty boring! The first section of the book is a quite dull … setting up the characters and plot with a heavy hand, telling not showing. Characters seemed to be little more than chess pieces, moved from place to place only to advance the story. Kate (the heroine) never becomes a well-defined character … by the end of the book I cared little about what happened to her.
The middle section of the book then actually s-l-o-w-s the story d-o-w-n with convoluted explanations of time travel, how the Chronos team works and the confusing back story. During the final 1/3 of the story finally kicks into gear as Kate goes back in time to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and crosses path with the notorious H.H. Holmes, which, unfortunately, does not have as great a payoff as it should.
As a fan of time travel stories (see my article, Essential Time Travel Novels), I found this YA novel lacking in many ways. Good idea, haphazardly executed.
There is NO Bella in this book. No misty eyed teenage romance. There is no soul-searching Lestat who laments his life in overlong paragraphs filled with purple prose. There is no erudite Count with a cape. No Victorian damsels in flimsy nightgowns and heaving bosoms. In Justin Cronin’s The Passage, the “vampires” are the result of a military genetic experiment gone horribly wrong and ultimately, out of control. They are vicious, nasty, virtually unstoppable and very very hungry. The first 250 pages of The Passage are the best fiction I have read this year.
Now the bad:
Unfortunately, the book is 766 pages long. With two sequels on the way. The novel covers over 1000 years. The first section follows modern day events. A military/ scientific expedition in South America captures a jungle virus and takes the secret to a lab for study. They discover the virus increases strength in test monkeys and prolongs their lifespan. The government hatches plans to create a Super Soldier. FBI agent Brad Wolgast is put on special assignment with the military to bring “volunteer test subjects” from death row prisons across America to be infected with the virus. But when Wolgast is ordered by his military superiors to capture a 10 year old girl, Amy, and deliver her to the lab, he rebels. The army hunts them down and Amy is taken to the lab to be tested. Then, the world goes to hell.
Twelve of the infected creatures escape the lab and overnight destroy the entire military installation. Wolgast and Amy barely escape and spend the next several years living in isolation. Then … one day there is a brilliant explosion to the west. Amy is blinded by the nuclear blast, and Wolgast slowly dies of radiation poisoning.
The book then jumps 1000 years in the future. The creatures (called Virals or Jumps) have wiped out most of the human population. Ninety per cent of infected humans die – ten per cent become Virals themselves.
What follows is an alternately entertaining, horrific, tedious and ultimately, frustrating apocalyptic story of the human survivors and their civilization. This is where author Justin Cronin falls woefully short of his goals. Having published two short modern and very literary novels, Cronin branches into territory usually reserved for such “inferior” writers as Stephen King, Robert McCammon and Richard Matheson. When “serious” writers stoop to write horror or science fiction – genre fiction! – the result is usually well-written crap.
Several years ago we got the novel Jonathon Strange & Mr. Norrel, an old fashioned English novel about magic and evil. The literary world loved it … heaped praise upon it and claimed that it “redefined the horror novel.” It sure did – it redefined the horror novel as tedious and stodgy. The Historian was also forced upon us as a “brilliant re-working of the vampire legend.” The only brilliant thing about the book was its ad campaign. The book was literary sawdust. Remember when Norman Mailer (a literary giant, just ask him) claimed he could write a great mystery novel, and we got Tough Guys Don’t Dance? If you actually finished that book, your place in heaven is assured.Those of us going to hell will probably have to reread it for eternity.
There are sections of The Passage, and I mean dozens of pages, that beg to be skipped. Cronin often forgets he is NOT writing a mainstream novel where nothing is supposed to happen. He has chosen to write a genre novel for money … and of course, he can make it better than those popular writers because, after all … he is a serious novelist.
If you really want to read this kind of story, I recommend 2009’s The Strain, with a similar story and sweep (now a TV event on FX) or how about two all-time apocalyptic classics: The Stand by Stephen King and Swan Song by Robert MacCammon. Those two pulp writers managed to write a couple of horrific novels that are everything The Passage isn’t … great.
For all its posturing (and intellectual promotion among the literary elites) The Passage is not a bad novel, just not a good one. I’m betting the Hollywood movie will be better than the book.
Book One: Pines. Secret Service Agent Ethan Burke arrives in the idyllic town of Wayward Pines in Idaho – surrounded by tall pine tree forests and insurmountable mountains on all sides to investigate the mysterious disappearance of two agents who had landed here two weeks before. He is involved in a horrific accident that leaves him with partial memory loss. But when he recovers, his interactions with the town residents makes him realize there is something wrong with the whole town itself. He is not able to reach his wife and kids in Boise or his handler within the agency. Dead bodies turning up, mysterious bar-tenders who disappear, a psychiatrist and a nurse who seem hell bent on harming him than curing and a whole town of kooks who love nothing more than shooting the breeze during day time and take part in blood fetes at night. It gets murky and weirder by the page. And then, when he attempts to escape the town, the real horror begins …
Book Two: Wayward. Except for the electrified fence and razor wire, snipers scoping everything 24/7, and the relentless surveillance tracking each word and gesture Wayward Pines is an Eden. None of the residents know how they got here. They are told where to work, how to live, and who to marry. Some believe they are dead. Others think they’re trapped in an unfathomable experiment. Everyone secretly dreams of leaving, but dare not. Ethan Burke has seen the world beyond. He’s sheriff, and one of the few who knows the truth—Wayward Pines isn’t just a town. And what lies on the other side of the fence is a nightmare beyond imagining.
Book Three: The Last Town. The children of Wayward Pines are taught that David Pilcher, the town’s creator, is god. No one is allowed to leave; asking questions can be lethal. But Ethan Burke has discovered the astonishing secret of what lies beyond the electrified fence that surrounds Wayward Pines and protects it from the terrifying world beyond. It is a secret that has the entire population completely under the control of a madman and his army of followers, a secret that is about to come storming through the fence to wipe out this last, fragile remnant of humanity.
There is a downward spiral in the narrative. Book 1, Pines, was thrilling and suspenseful, with a v-e-r-y Twilight Zone feel to the entire story. Book 2, Wayward, is substantially less intriguing. The plot seems to be papered over and the ending (as is common with the middle books of trilogies) is flat and slightly unfair when the reader realizes the author has been misleading you the entire book – cheap and silly and very much TV. Book 3, The Last Town, is poorly written and runs out of narrative steam – the ending is a sudden jolt!
It seems perfect that FOX TV is turning the books into a series, executive produced by M. Night Shymalyan since most of his projects are intriguing ideas poorly executed.
ADVENT, the first of a projected trilogy, suffers from the same flaw that made Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell so tough to read – long meandering pages of description and character musings. The story is more atmospheric than intriguing or compelling. My advice to novelists … Charles Dickens and Jane Austen are dead, stop trying to write like them!
The main character, Gavin, wallows in his own self pity for about two thirds of the book – no one understands him, how alone he is, how he keeps seeing Mrs. Grey everywhere – blah! blah! blah! Johann is just as bad … stuck in a narrative time loop telling the same story over and over and over again.