Title: Black Dog
Author: Rachel Neumeier
Series: Black Dog #1
Natividad and her brothers are on the run after the death of their parents, heading north to the one place that might—or might not—offer enough protection for them to survive. Dimilioc is home to the black dog clan that exiled their father. Natividad hopes its Master can be convinced. But Dimilioc is not what any of them expects . . .
I don’t want to say too much and spoil this. It was not at all the story I expected, but I loved it. Black dogs are superficially similar to werewolves (although they have their own name, moon-bound, for those who only shift at the full moon), but they have a curious relationship with their demonic shadows. The shadows turn them into black dogs with blazing eyes and an endless appetite for violence and destruction. That propensity pushes at them even in human form, making them surly and aggressive, and very sensitive to the nuances of dog behaviors. I really like the depth to the culture. Alejandro, Natividad’s older brother, is a black dog and provides a good window into how they think, and the points from Navitidad and Miguel (her human brother) underlines how their natures are just fundamentally different from a regular human.
And as black dogs are intrinsically violent, the story can get messy very quickly. Which amused me to no end. These are not nice fights between civilized creatures, but rather savage butchery where the goal is to rip off the enemy’s head or rip out his spine so he can’t shift to shake off the wounds. In other words, if you’re looking for fluffy happy innocent shapeshifters, this is not your book.
I liked the characters a lot too. Natividad is no physical powerhouse like her brother Alejandro, but she’s got magic and bravery and cleverness. Miguel, too, is much more than just a hanger-on, despite being fully human. He becomes as indispensable as his siblings. And the black dogs of Dimilioc are fascinating. Violent, absolutely, but possibly also creatures that can be reasoned with. Except they ARE black dogs, and Natividad is still figuring out what they will and won’t tolerate.
Overall this is a fast-paced read that totally sidesteps traditional urban fantasies about werewolves. The characters are strong, the world is unique, and I absolutely want to see where we go from here. I rate this book Recommended.