Rhett Walker ain’t perfect.
He’d be the first to admit it. All the people he’s lost, the people that he felt responsible for, the ones he couldn’t save. If only he’d been a little bit faster, gotten there a little bit sooner, been a little smarter, a little stronger.
But more than that, Rhett is a refreshingly imperfect protagonist. He’s often harsh when he’s dealing with his family and traveling companions, especially the women. He wants to keep everyone safe and believes he knows how best to do that, even when they tell him differently. He’s alternately full of himself and painfully insecure. In other words, he’s beautifully human, for all that he’s a person who shapeshifts into a giant vulture and is guided by a mysterious force in his gut called the Shadow.
As this Western fantasy series by Lila Bowen (Delilah S. Dawson) progressed, Rhett Walker learned more about who he was, from seeing monsters to becoming one, from being a slave to becoming the leader of a burgeoning new community. As he discovered who he really was, he also found his family and his love. And he did it all as he rid his corner of the world from some truly evil threats: the Cannibal Owl, who stole children; and Trevisan, a railroad baron and a necromancer.
In this final book, Rhett’s past is coming back from all across Durango, courtesy of the mysterious El Rey. The Shadow isn’t being particularly helpful, leaving him in a constant state of unease. As he gathers his people and prepares for what feels like the ultimate fight against this new unknown enemy that seems to have the upper hand at every turn, he is also struggling with the realities of his relationship with Sam. He’s learning that love is even more complicated than he thought: how does love persevere in the face of obstacles both internal and external? Bowen is a master at illuminating the pressures that all of us have dealt with in our mundane lives at one time or another within a richly drawn fantasy setting.
The entire series was captivating, and the final book did not disappoint. I was curious about how Bowen would wrap up the series, because it seemed to me that Rhett was just finally coming into his own as a young man and a leader. She deftly drew threads from all of the books together in a way that was surprising and yet, in the way of a great storyteller, inevitable.
While these books are about monsters and men, shapeshifting and deadly battles, they’re just as vitally about overcoming prejudice and bigotry, as well as a journey of personal discovery and growth, family and love. All of these themes are woven through a tense environment where danger is lurking at the edges of every scene, creating books that are impossible to put down: just one more chapter, I’d tell myself, until it was 3:00 in the morning.
A queer coming-of-age story wrapped in monsters and magic set in a fantasy version of the old west, Treason of Hawks and the rest of the Shadow series is a unique, satisfying read.