The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires

I thought that when I finished Where the Crawdads Sing I had used up my excellent book karma for the entire year. Oh boy was I wrong. Grady Hendrix has spun a yarn here that is so vibrant and arresting that by the end I actually had to go lie down to slow my speeding heartbeat.

I felt so many emotions. Horror and fear of course, but anger at how badly the women of the group are treated by their husbands. The eighties and nineties really suffered from a 1950s hangover in terms of how wives and housewives were treated (although I would argue that married women/mothers are still not treated well or equitably, but this book takes place in the eighties and nineties so that’s the context for now).

I was heartened by how the women supported each other. Whether it was childcare, cleaning, elder care, carpools, you name it and the women were a closely knit team who had each other’s backs.

Hendrix wove racial differences between communities into the story seamlessly. Mrs. Greene, the black housekeeper that the MC hires to take care of her elderly mother-in-law that comes to live with them full time, brings the vampire activity to the women’s attention showing them how the black children were falling prey to him and because they were from the black community it never made the papers and anyone outside the black neighborhood didn’t notice.

First the vampire came for the black children, and the women tried to do something but were thwarted by the men, and so Mrs. Greene was left out to dry, her beliefs about white people reaffirmed.

You will hate most of the men by the end of this, but it will be a hatred of their own making. Everything they do is 100% realistic and you’ll recognize all of them. You’ll be frustrated that the women threaten to break apart because they feel a stronger allegiance to their husbands than to each other. All you will want is for the women to forget about their husbands and get together to destroy this leech and keep everyone safe. I found myself continually returning to the rallying cry of today: Believe the women!!! If only the men had believed them from the start, but then we wouldn’t have been given the entirety of this amazing book.

This is an amazing, original take on the vampire story. If you have the time you will read it in one sitting. I was disappointed when I had to put it down to go to sleep or do other things. If you can stomach a little gore and horror, this is a tale that illuminates so much more than good versus evil and you will want to read it. Go get you some immediately!

Wake of Vultures (The Shadow #1)

I have been meaning to read Delilah S. Dawson’s work for quite some time. She writes fantasy as Lila Bowen, so I went to the library and checked out the first book in her Shadow series, to see what I would see.

This is one of the best beginnings of a book that I have ever read. In the span of three chapters our heroine Nettie Lonesome murders a vampire, proves her worth to the neighboring ranch, and escapes her life with her adoptive, drunk “parents” to be a bronc breaker under the name of Nat (everyone assumes she is a boy). It begins as a western that quickly becomes a fantasy quest.

Just when we think our heroine is safe, well-fed, and living her dream, a mostly dead Indian woman finds her way onto the ranch, gets Nettie to agree to seek her revenge for her, and then rides off on a mythical ocean steed, vowing to haunt her until the Cannibal Owl is destroyed. Nettie’s not real sure what the Cannibal Owl is, but she knows she doesn’t want to be haunted by an old Indian woman and in danger of being drowned by ocean water hundreds of miles away from its source.

Eventually she is forced from the ranch an discovers there are more horrors out in the desert than vampires. She’s pursued by a harpy, saved by a skinwalker and his sister, and brought to the rangers to see if they will train her(him) and accompany her on her mission to kill the Cannibal Owl. They agree, and share stories about what the Cannibal Owl has done, mostly stealing children from towns and eating them, one which was just a newborn baby.

There are a million reasons to love this book. You don’t have to be half black, half Native American to identify with Nettie Lonesome. Her entire attitude of zero fucks to give about being a woman, about being a tool of revenge, about possibly being a mythical Shadow being – all she wants to do is be a man and work with horses. Every step of her journey is one less thing she has to do before she can go home or find a place on a nearby ranch to do what she loves.

This narrative tackles gender and being able to choose the gender you identify as, in addition to LGBT relationships. It shows us what perseverance and trust can mean in the face of a destiny you do not want. One of the intricate issues Bowen/Dawson explores is what it might mean when the gender you choose to present confuses those who might be gay or bisexual when you are not. What happens when a male character who is gay falls for Nettie when she is pretending to be a man? This part of the book made me think about this situation, it was one I hadn’t considered before, and the communication, understanding, and delicacy that the miscommunication required was amazing to read. Even within the community of LGBT there is patience that is required as everyone navigates their identities and their sexualities.

The worldbuilding was wonderful, the characters were compelling and interesting, and the story held me in my seat until the very end. It’s a book that tackles important issues in a normal way in the midst of a fantasy quest. Go get you some.