At the end of Wake of Vultures, Nettie Lonesome, the half Native American, half African American, cross-dressing Texas Ranger, who is also The Shadow, took a leap of faith hoping to find some answers. She had just dispatched the Cannibal Owl, and narrowly escaped with her life, then Nettie suddenly walked to the edge of a cliff and jumped. Did she find what she was looking for? Perhaps. She also added to the long list of questions for which she had no answers. Sometimes life is funny like that, such as the time she discovered what animal she could turn into, and that lead her to meet Earl O’Bannon. Just like Nettie, Earl is a “monster” who turns into a donkey. He just escaped from a railroad camp where the man in charge, Bernard Trevisan, is seeking out “monsters” to construct a new railroad (being nearly impossible to kill, they’re perfect for his purposes). While he lures them in with promises of good pay and good conditions, they end up slaves working away their lives, or dying trying to escape. Earl’s brother Shaunie is still in that camp, and Earl needs the help of The Shadow to free his brother.
Nettie, who now goes by the name of Rhett, and fellow Rangers Coyote Dan and Sam Hennessy, plus Dan’s sister Winifred, make their way west to find this railroad camp, and the man building it on the backs of slaves. To Rhett, Bernard Trevisan, sounds like someone who needs to be killed, and Rhett is just the man to do it.
In Conspiracy of Ravens, the adventures of The Shadow continue. Writer Lila Bowen, a pen name for Delilah S. Dawson, broadens and deepens the world and characters she created in Wake of Vultures. All of the main characters are back, and they have been affected by their pursuit of the Cannibal Owl. Nettie, who transitions fully to Rhett, becomes more sure of himself, his calling and abilities, while steadfastly being the same stubborn and ornery person he always has been. Rhett is the quintessential Western anti-hero, the one who does what is right, but only when it suits him. While he possess a heart filled with generally good intentions, he completely lacks any idea of how to fullfill them. This is especially true in his relationships with Dan, Sam and Winifred, as these become increasingly complex and complicated.
Like Wake of Vultures before it, Conspiracy of Ravens is a dark historical fantasy that comments on our current world by looking at a fantastic past. While magical forces are present and must be dealt with, the most egregious acts perpetrated in this book are done by humans fueled by their ignorance, hate and greed. But all of this is deftly balanced with healthy doses of humor and examples of how much better our world would be if we could learn to see past those negative influences and simply strive to be who we are, and allow others the chance to do the same.
As with Wake of Vultures, Conspiracy of Ravens ends on a bit of a cliff-hanger, leaving readers anxious for the release of the, as yet, untitled next book in the series.