Black Dog by Rachel Neumeier – Advance Review

Black Dog

Book Jacket:

Natividad is Pure, one of the rare girls born able to wield magic. Pure magic can protect humans against the supernatural evils they only half-acknowledge – the blood kin or the black dogs. In rare cases – like for Natividad’s father and older brother – Pure magic can help black dogs find the strength to control their dark powers.

But before Natividad’s mother can finish teaching her magic their enemies find them. Their entire village in the remote hills of Mexico is slaughtered by black dogs. Their parents die protecting them. Natividad and her brothers must flee across a strange country to the only possible shelter: the infamous black dogs of Dimilioc, who have sworn to protect the Pure.

In the snowy forests of Vermont they are discovered by Ezekiel Korte, despite his youth the strongest black dog at Dimilioc and the appointed pack executioner. Intrigued by Natividad he takes them to Dimilioc instead of killing them.

Now they must pass the tests of the Dimilioc Master. Alejandro must prove he can learn loyalty and control even without his sister’s Pure magic. Natividad’s twin Miguel must prove that an ordinary human can be more than a burden to be protected. And even at Dimilioc a Pure girl like Natividad cannot remain unclaimed to cause fighting and distraction. If she is to stay she must choose a black dog mate.

But, first, they must all survive the looming battle.

You can read an excerpt here.

Review:

While I liked this book – it was entertaining, and I had fun reading it – I couldn’t quite truly love it.

And the main thing holding me back, frankly, was Natividad. Now it’s not that I despised the girl – I liked her loyalty, very much, and the fact she was essentially willing to sell herself into an arranged marriage for the safety of her brothers made me respect her – but the way everyone and everything kept revolving around how “special” she was, it just set my teeth on edge. I wanted her to stand out as a character, as a person – but aside from a few glimmers of personality, by and large Natividad is just a hodgepodge of overly perfect traits: nice, sweet, fragile, beautiful, a good cook, even, and magic to boot, instantly beloved by everyone she sees and allowed to get away with murder as a result. And while the magical aspect of why the wolves adore her so very much made for an interesting twist on werewolf mythology, it also led to a pervasive objectification of her that was just kinda icky. Even Natividad herself at one point raises a flag and says, point blank, you like me for what I am, not who – and for a second there I though, YES, good girl, exactly, demand to be treated like a person not a thing – but unfortunately that moment of character gets punctured like a balloon and deflates just as rapidly because the biggest, baddest, scariest wolf in the pack then quickly assures her, oh no, it’s not just because of the magic, it’s also because you’re so PRETTY. And there she was, objectified again – but she was too busy blushing to mind. Gaaah. And then, to add insult to injury, aside from being a ridiculously gorgeous, magical, soon-to-be trophy wife, Natividad also manages to do some truly idiotic things – though always with good intentions, I grant you – such that everyone keeps having to go rushing after her, to save her. Damsel in distress much? Needless to say, it all irked me to no end – because altogether it made Natividad feel like a stand-in, a pretty, helpless damsel slash magical prize in need of manly protection, rather than a girl with a distinct, actual personality. And that made me care about her so much less.

And yet, despite all that, there still is a lot to enjoy in this book. I really loved the somewhat modern-medieval flare of the world building, with the Houses and bloodlines, blood-feuds and lords of the manor (though I would have liked to see a bit more diversity in terms of the Houses – I mean, did they all have to be European?), and I very much enjoyed Neumeier’s take on werewolf mythology, with the subtle “damnation” implied, and the harsh day-to-day realities. The fact that Alejandro has been a constant danger to his siblings since the day they were born was just wonderfully chilling – and the power dynamics and fault lines within Dimilioc were fascinating to watch unfold. And while Alejandro (who splits POV narration with Natividad) may not be terribly interesting, I still really liked the up-close and personal view of what it’s like to be a Black Dog (as they’re widely known), to be so patently un-human. And as for Michael, Natividad’s other, entirely human brother, while he may be something of a place holder – he’s “smart” and therefor readily drops convenient knowledge when needed – it was interesting to see where he stacked up in this new world order, being the only non-magical member of the family. All in all, it made for a very interesting world to explore, chock full of political maneuvering and dominance displays.

As for the plot – well, it did feel strangely familiar at times, and I can’t quite put my finger on why (though I suspect it might be the Mysterious Heritage, and Special Magic That Can Save Them All), but I really enjoyed the sense of danger throughout, and the deadly action. And while the villain may have been a bit mustache-twirly, he was also very scary, which was fun. Altogether it was just a tasty stew of action, danger, and intrigue.

So in the end, I was entertained by this book – and I will definitely read the next in the series – but I also was held back from truly loving it.

Byrt Grade: A-/B+ (or in Goodreads speak, 3 stars: “Liked it”)

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Fangs for the Fantasy says:

There’s so much about this book that works. The realness of the characters, some strong racial inclusion, an intriguing story with a few twists and turns and a very nice bait and switch at the end all set in an interesting new world that is going to be fascinating to explore. This ticks all the right boxes and is well worth a read.

Book Revels says:

I was pleasantly surprised by how interesting I found the werewolf mythology in Black Dog.

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