Rachel Neumeier’s collection Black Dog Short Stories contains four short stories, an introduction to genetics, and an essay on how genetics impact the world of the Black Dog books. Three stories are set between the end of the first book, Black Dog, and the beginning of the second book, Pure Magic, which was released shortly after these stories. The other story takes place before the first novel. I’d recommend reading Black Dog before this collection, both because I think having more background on the characters and world is helpful and because I preferred the novel (but then, I almost always prefer to read longer fiction!).
While some were enjoyable, the only story I thought truly stood out was the prequel, “The Master of Dimilioc”; however, I appreciated the collection as a whole much more once I’d read all the stories. Each had a different main character, but all worked together to characterize Grayson, the only one present in every single story. “Christmas Shopping” paints him as a wise and competent leader who is strict but sympathetic in foreseeing potential danger for one of his people and protecting her but still allowing her freedom. “Library Work” also shows how Grayson is firm but not unkind in his role as Master of Dimilioc. He doesn’t allow those in Dimilioc to get away with manipulating him, but he can also devise fitting and effective punishments without resorting to cruelty. This is contrasted with the old leadership in “The Master of Dimilioc,” which shows how Grayson earned this title after long being someone many in Dimilioc entrusted with their problems. His harder side is shown in “A Learning Experience,” in which he and Thaddeus are hunting stray black dogs who cannot control their shadows and are thus a danger to others. Thaddeus is tested by Grayson, and he comes to change his view of the Master by the end. Grayson was a character I found especially interesting in the novel, and I was glad this collection featured him so prominently.
I loved seeing more of Grayson, but I usually found that his character was the best part of each story. “Christmas Shopping” and “Library Work” are both cute, quick reads although I thought the first of these took a long time to get to the point. The beginning consisted of Natividad pestering Grayson about wanting to go shopping, his decision to send Keziah to protect her, descriptions of the drive to the store, and an accounting of the shops the two young women visited before anything of interest happened. Once the action started, it got better but I was also a bit disappointed that most of what was revealed about the problem they faced was shared via infodump and then it was over quickly. However, I did enjoy seeing the development of Natividad and Keziah’s relationship. “Library Work,” my second favorite story in the collection, focuses on Miguel, who is annoyed when Etienne orders him to dust every single book in the huge library. He’s tired of the way Etienne treats him because he sees him as a mere human and decides to try to change that. I did not think Miguel was as clever as he thought he was, and I was glad that his own view of this was challenged in the end.
“A Learning Experience” and “The Master of Dimilioc” are heavier stories than the first two and also develop their main characters more. The first was my least favorite, which surprised me since it was about Thaddeus. His perspective is well done and he’s still an intriguing character, but I felt this story was too drawn out despite having a couple of great scenes. There were a couple of flashbacks, and while I did find learning more about how black dogs view the Pure interesting, the rest of the history didn’t hold my attention nor did reading about searching for other black dogs. Even though I enjoyed his final scene with Grayson, I found that to be longer than necessary as well. Ezekiel’s story, “The Master of Dimilioc,” was the most compelling story of the four and the only one to hold my attention from start to finish. Ezekiel contends with examining life in Dimilioc more closely and begins to wonder how it could be.
Overall, I enjoyed Black Dog Short Stories although not as much as the novel Black Dog. I was actually quite surprised by how much more I appreciated these stories after I finished reading all of them and was able to look at them all together instead of individually. The fourth was still easily my favorite as the only one that hooked me immediately, but I did like how each told a different story while showing what kind of leader Grayson is—and it managed to make me quite curious about what happens to these characters next in Pure Magic!
My Rating: 6.5/10
Where I got my reading copy: Electronic copy from the author.
Review(s) of Other Books in This Series: