Black Dog is the first book in a new YA contemporary fantasy series by Rachel Neumeier. It will definitely be at least a duology since the second book is scheduled for release next year, but the author has mentioned she’d also like to write a third book on her blog.

Once Edward Toland and Malvern Vonhausel both belonged to the Dimilioc, a powerful group of black dogs. The two enemies were both exiled, but leaving Dimilioc did not end their enmity. Even after Toland relocated to Mexico and married, his wife had to hide the two of them and their three children: Alejandro, a black dog and the oldest; Natividad, a Pure girl with the power to protect others like her Pure mother; and Miguel, Natividad’s human twin. However, Vonhausel eventually found the family and murdered the children’s mother and father, although the three siblings managed to escape.

Natividad and her brothers believe their best chance for survival lies with the Dimilioc and head north to their territory in the northern United States. Since the Dimilioc value the Pure, they can at least be assured that Natividad should have a place there, although whether or not they will be willing to take in another black dog and a human boy is a gamble. When the siblings do reach the Dimilioc territory in Vermont, they find their numbers greatly diminished after the recent war that wiped out the vampires. Fifteen-year-old Natividad offers to marry any one of the black dogs of the Dimilioc, since this genetic match can provide them with strong black dogs and Pure daughters.

As suspected, convincing the Dimilioc to accept Alejandro and Miguel is more difficult than persuading them to shelter their sister, but the Dimilioc Master decides to allow them to stay after testing the two brothers. He also accepts Natividad’s offer of marriage to one of the Dimilioc but decrees that she will be allowed to choose which on her sixteenth birthday in four months and that none of them can touch her until then. Ezekiel, their executioner, is not too pleased with the latter part of this proclamation and makes it very clear that he intends to be the one to marry Natividad. In the meantime, the Dimilioc make plans to bring in more black dogs and strengthen the Pack—and they’re going to need all the strength they can get when Vonhausel comes against them with a power unlike any they have witnessed before.

My first experience with Rachel Neumeier’s writing was her previous novel, House of Shadows, an enchanting and beautifully written fantasy set in a secondary world. After loving that book, I was rather curious about her contemporary fantasy Black Dog. While I preferred the former, mainly because the writing style was more appealing to me, I also very much enjoyed Black Dog for its vivid world and endearing characters. The prose, particularly the dialogue, did not always work for me, but the top notch world building certainly did—and the more I reflect on it and reread parts of it, the more excited I am to read the sequel.

The highlight of Black Dog is the world: it’s vast and it has a history, but these are integrated into the story. Past events are revealed in a way that flows naturally, and they also have an effect on the present. The situation Natividad and her brothers are in at the beginning of the book is the result of a conflict involving their father before they were even born, and both their problems and Dimilioc’s are related to a recent war against the vampires. One of the obstacles the Dimilioc face is change and adjusting to the aftermath, which requires that they evaluate eliminating some of their long-held traditions. There’s also some much older history related to the Pure mentioned, and I have a suspicion this will be important as more of Natividad’s story unravels in the next book. Even though this novel focuses on a fairly small, close-knit group of people, there’s scope and it’s quite clear there is more to this world than these characters and what happens to them. Given that there are references to previous major events and other parts of the world, it seems as though there are many stories that could be written in this setting and much more to explore in other installments.

After the world, the novel’s biggest strength is its characters. In particular, I enjoyed the sibling relationships and how the three desired to protect one another—and were each capable of doing so in their own different way. Alejandro has physical strength as a black dog, and Natividad has her magic and abilities to calm and protect. Miguel, the only sibling who is not a point of view character, does not have any extraordinary powers as a human, but his advice and insight are invaluable (and he’s learned to be pretty good with a pistol, too!).

The other characters from Dimilioc are not as developed, but many seem to have interesting backgrounds and I’m hoping to learn more about some of the newer members in the next book. I’m also intrigued by Ezekiel, even if I do find his sudden attachment to Natividad somewhat creepy. Ezekiel is in some ways nearly too perfect since he’s an exceptionally strong black dog who became their executioner when he was barely even a teenager, but he also seems to be somewhat isolated and lonely due to his exceptional qualities. By the end of the book, I was quite curious about his story and why he’s so drawn to Natividad, and I even found myself rather interested in finding out if he’d win her over in the next book, despite some misgivings about this attraction. In general, I had some reservations about Natividad agreeing to select a husband at only 16 years of age, even though it was her suggestion and her choice. Overall, very little of this book is focused on Ezekiel and Natividad, but I’m guessing there will be more focus on them in the next book.

It’s not a grim book, but the mythology is rather dark since black dogs are at war with their nature. While I’ve read similar concepts in books focusing on wolves, this particular internal conflict seems much stronger than others I’ve read about. At one point, Natividad chastises someone for damning a black dog, explaining “Black dogs walk so close to the edge of Hell anyway. Never damn a black dog, it could happen, do you see?” (pp. 217) The black dogs are closer to hellhounds than wolves, and it takes a lot of control for them to learn to refrain from killing people.

My biggest issue with this novel is that the writing was a little casual for my taste. The dialogue is realistic and reads the way people speak, but that style is one I don’t always find easy to read. It uses “alright” a lot and there were many words emphasized in italics throughout the narrative. While there were a few times this grated on me, it wasn’t a huge problem for me, especially once I became interested in the story and finding out what happened next.

Even though I had a few nitpicks about the prose style, I did very much enjoy Black Dog. The world is epic, the characters intriguing, and the end had some promising developments that left me eager to read more in the next book.

My Rating: 8/10

Where I got my reading copy: From the publisher at the request of the author.

Read an Excerpt

Other Reviews of Black Dog:

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week – old or new, bought or received for review consideration. Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

This week there isn’t a new pile of books since only one book arrived, but it is a book I’m quite excited about (and have already started reading!).

Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

Half a King (Shattered Sea #1) by Joe Abercrombie

Half a King, the first book in a fantasy trilogy, will be released in the US on July 8 (hardcover, ebook). The UK release date is July 3. The entire trilogy is supposed to be released in the span of a year with Half the World scheduled for publication in February 2015 and Half a War in July 2015. I had heard it was a young adult fantasy, but it sounds as though it’s going to be marketed as both adult fantasy and young adult. You can read more about the complexities of determining which books to categorize as young adult and the categorization of this particular series on the author’s blog.

 

“I swore an oath to avenge the death of my father. I may be half a man, but I swore a whole oath.”

Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains, and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea. And he must do it all with only one good hand.

The deceived will become the deceiver.

Born a weakling in the eyes of his father, Yarvi is alone in a world where a strong arm and a cold heart rule. He cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a deadly edge.

The betrayed will become the betrayer.

Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast and the lost, he finds they can do more to help him become the man he needs to be than any court of nobles could.

Will the usurped become the usurper?

But even with loyal friends at his side, Yarvi finds his path may end as it began—in twists, and traps, and tragedy.

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week – old or new, bought or received for review consideration. Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

A lot of books showed up in the mail this week, including one I’ve already discussed here. In case you missed it before, here’s where you can read more about it:

On to the rest of this week’s books!

Flight of the Golden Harpy by Susan Klaus

Flight of the Golden Harpy by Susan Klaus

Flight of the Golden Harpy, a speculative fiction debut, will be released on June 17 (hardcover, ebook). I’ve seen the book described as both science fiction and fantasy, and it sounds like it’s one of those books that has elements of both. It was awarded Best Science Fiction in the 2010 Royal Palm Literary Awards.

 

Kari, a young woman, returns to her jungle planet of Dora after ten years in Earth’s schools and is determined to unravel the mysteries surrounding the harpies, a feral species half-bird, half-mortal. The residences of Dora believe the harpies are dangerous game animals and hunt them for their trophy wings, but Kari thinks they are intelligent and not just wild animals. A rare golden harpy, a teenage blond male with yellow wings rescued Kari as a child from the jaws of a water monster. Upon returning home, she learns the harpies are facing extinction with the over-hunting and she sets out to save them, all the time wondering if the golden male is still alive.

Flight of the Golden Harpy is a fantasy, but also a mystery, thriller, and a love story that leaves a reader questioning our humanity

The Lascar's Dagger by Glenda Larke

The Lascar’s Dagger (The Forsaken Lands #1) by Glenda Larke

This first book in a new series will be released on March 18 (paperback, ebook). An excerpt from The Lascar’s Dagger is available on the publisher’s website, and you can read more about Glenda Larke’s historical influences in the series on her website.

 

Faith will not save him.

Saker appears to be a simple priest, but in truth he’s a spy for the head of his faith. Wounded in the line of duty by a Lascar sailor’s blade, the weapon seems to follow him home. Unable to discard it, nor the sense of responsibility it brings, Saker can only follow its lead.

The dagger puts Saker on a journey to distant shores, on a path that will reveal terrible secrets about the empire, about the people he serves, and destroy the life he knows. The Lascar’s dagger demands a price, and that price will be paid in blood.

Ghost Train to New Orleans by Mur Lafferty

Ghost Train to New Orleans (The Shambling Guides #2) by Mur Lafferty

This new book from Campbell Award winner Mur Lafferty was released on March 4 (paperback, ebook, audiobook). An excerpt from Ghost Train to New Orleans can be read on the publisher’s website.

The first book in the series is titled The Shambling Guide to New York City.

 

Could you find a museum for a monster?
Or a jazz bar for a jabberwock?

Zoe Norris writes travel guides for the undead. And she’s good at it too—her new-found ability to talk to cities seems to help. After the success of The Shambling Guide to New York City, Zoe and her team are sent to New Orleans to write the sequel.

Work isn’t all that brings Zoe to the Big Easy. The only person who can save her boyfriend from zombism is rumored to live in the city’s swamps, but Zoe’s out of her element in the wilderness. With her supernatural colleagues waiting to see her fail, and rumors of a new threat hunting city talkers, can Zoe stay alive long enough to finish her next book?

Acid by Emma Pass

Acid by Emma Pass

This standalone YA debut was released in the UK and Spain last year, and it will be released in the US on March 11 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). An excerpt from Acid is available on Goodreads. A second standalone novel by Emma Pass, The Fearless, will be coming to the UK next year and the US in 2015.

 

The year is 2113. In Jenna Strong’s world, ACID—the most brutal controlling police force in history—rule supreme. No throwaway comment or whispered dissent goes unnoticed—or unpunished. And it was ACID agents who locked Jenna away for life, for a horrendous crime she struggles to remember. But Jenna’s violent prison time has taught her how to survive by any means necessary.

When a mysterious rebel group breaks her out, she must use her strength, speed, and skill to stay one step ahead of ACID, and try to uncover the truth about what really happened on that terrible night two years ago. They have taken her life, her freedom, and her true memories away from her. How can she reclaim anything when she doesn’t know who to trust?

Strong, gritty writing, irresistible psychological suspense, and action consume the novel as Jenna struggles to survive against the all-controlling ACID. Seriously sinister stuff.

Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

Zita the Spacegirl (Zita the Spacegirl #1) by Ben Hatke

This first book in a New York Times bestselling graphic novel series was released in paperback in 2011 (recommended for grades 2-5). For more information on the series, you can check out the website or read a review on Boing Boing.

 

Zita’s life took a cosmic left turn in the blink of  an eye.

When her best friend is abducted by an alien doomsday cult, Zita leaps to the rescue and finds herself a stranger on a strange planet. Humanoid chickens and neurotic robots are shocking enough as new experiences go, but Zita is even more surprised to find herself taking on the role of intergalactic hero. Before long, aliens in all shapes and sizes don’t even phase her. Neither do ancient prophecies, doomed planets, or even a friendly con man who takes a mysterious interest in Zita’s quest.

Zita the Spacegirl is a fun, captivating tale of friendship and redemption from Flight veteran Ben Hatke. It also has more whimsical, eye-catching, Miyazaki-esque monsters than you can shake a stick at.

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl (Zita the Spacegirl #2) by Ben Hatke

The second graphic novel about Zita the Spacegirl has been out since 2012.

 

Fame comes at a price…

Zita must find her way back to earth…but her space adventures have made her a galactic megastar! Who can you trust when your true self is overshadowed by your public image? And to make things worse…Zita’s got a robot double making trouble–while wearing her face!

The Return of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

The Return of Zita the Spacegirl (Zita the Spacegirl #3) by Ben Hatke

The third graphic novel about Zita the Spacegirl will be released on May 13. Visit Boing Boing to see a preview from The Return of Zita the Spacegirl.

 

Ben Hatke brings back our intrepid space heroine for another delightful sci-fi/fantasy adventure in this New York Times‑Bestselling graphic novel trilogy for middle grade readers.

Zita the Spacegirl has saved planets, battled monsters, and wrestled with interplanetary fame. But she faces her biggest challenge yet in the third and final installment of the Zita adventures. Wrongfully imprisoned on a penitentiary planet, Zita has to plot the galaxy’s greatest jailbreak before the evil prison warden can execute his plan of interstellar domination!

Chasers of the Wind by Alexey Pehov

Chasers of the Wind (The Cycle of Wind and Sparks #1) by Alexey Pehov

This novel by award-winning Russian fantasy and science fiction author Alexey Pehov will be released on June 17 (hardcover, ebook). Chasers of the Wind shares the same setting as The Chronicles of Siala, which is a bestselling fantasy series in Russia.

 

Centuries after the disastrous War of the Necromancers, the Nabatorians, aligned with the evil necromancers of Sdis, mount an invasion of the Empire. Luk, a soldier, and Ga-Nor, a Northern barbarian, are thrown together as they attempt to escape the Nabatorian hordes and find their way back to their comrades.

Gray and Layan are a married couple, master thieves who are hiding out and trying to escape their former gang. They hope to evade the bounty hunters that hound them and retire to a faraway land in peace.

Tia is a powerful dark sorceress and one of The Damned—a group trying to take over the world and using the Nabatorian invasion as a diversion.

Unfortunately, for Gray and Layan, they unwittingly hold the key to a powerful magical weapon that could bring The Damned back to power.

Hounded by the killers on their trail and by the fearsome creatures sent by The Damned, Gray and Layan are aided by Luk and Ga-Nor—and Harold, the hero of The Chronicles of Siala. Realizing what’s at stake they decide that, against all odds, they must stop The Damned.

Chasers of the Wind is the first book in a new series from internationally bestselling author Alexey Pehov.

Working God's Mischief by Glen Cook

Working God’s Mischief (The Instrumentalities of the Night #4) by Glen Cook

This novel will be released on March 11 (hardcover, ebook). An excerpt from Working God’s Mischief can be read on Tor.com.

The previous three books in the series are as follows:

  1. The Tyranny of the Night
  2. Lord of the Silent Kingdom
  3. Surrender to the Will of the Night
 

Arnhand, Castauriga, and Navaya lost their kings. The Grail Empire lost its empress. The Church lost its Patriarch, though he lives on as a fugitive. The Night lost Kharoulke the Windwalker, an emperor amongst the most primal and terrible gods. The Night goes on, in dread.  The world goes on, in dread.  The ice builds and slides southward.

New kings come. A new empress will rule. Another rump polishes the Patriarchal Throne.

But there is something new under the sun. The oldest and fiercest of the Instrumentalities has been destroyed–by a mortal. There is no new Windwalker, nor will there ever be.

The world, battered by savage change, limps toward its destiny. And the ice is coming.

Working God’s Mischief is the savage, astounding new novel of The Instrumentalities of Night, by Glen Cook, a modern master of military fantasy.

Recently, Jessica from the wonderful blog Sci-Fi Fan Letter invited me to contribute to her Recommended Reading by Professionals column at SF Signal. My assignment was a difficult (but fun!) one: recommending 2-3 books that I believe should have received more recognition than they have. There are so many books I think deserve more readers and discussion that it was hard to limit my recommendations to just 3 of them! To see which books I eventually decided to recommend, read the post at SF Signal.

Women in SF&F Month Banner

April is once again going to be Women in SF&F Month on Fantasy Cafe! Three years in, I can now officially say it’s an annual event and the most fun thing I do on the site (even if it’s also the most work)!

Throughout April I set aside my normal reviews and coverage of book news to turn over the mic to some of the many women doing wonderful work in the speculative fiction genres. As with the last two years, I am quite happy if they want to talk about issues related to being a female author or fan, but my goal is simply to gather a bunch of women invested in the genre in one place at one time and showcase the work they are doing. Contributions have ranged from women discussing their own work and process to what they find best about the works of other women to issues of representation and equity in fandom. In the last two years, over 100 women have been either featured as guests or mentioned as inspirations to the guests who have written posts (with links to many more).

There will be much more to come as we get closer to April, so stay tuned!

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week – old or new, bought or received for review consideration. Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

This week brought a huge pile of books. Well, actually, it only brought five books, but one of these is massive and another is also unusually long so it looks like a large pile of books. Four were ARCs and review copies and the other was a purchase influenced by one of the review copies that showed up.

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

Words of Radiance (The Stormlight Archive #2) by Brandon Sanderson

Words of Radiance, following the New York Times bestselling novel The Way of Kings, will be released on March 4 (massive hardcover, ebook, audiobook). The book tour dates and locations are listed on Tor.com if you want to find out if there is an event near you. Some excerpts from Words of Radiance can also be read on Tor.com.

This books is HUGE. It’s almost 1100 pages in hardcover.

 

In the first volume, we were introduced to the remarkable world of Roshar, a world both alien and magical, where gigantic hurricane-like storms scour the surface every few days and life has adapted accordingly. Roshar is shared by humans and the enigmatic, humanoid Parshendi, with whom they are at war. Among those caught up in the conflict are Highprince Dalinar Kholin, who leads the human armies; his neice Jasnah, a renowned scholar; her student Shallan, a brilliant but troubled young woman; and Kaladin, a military slave who, by the book’s end, was beginning to become the first magically endowed Knight Radiant in centuries.

In Words of Radiance their intertwined stories will continue and, as Sanderson fans have come to expect, develop in unexpected, wonderfully surprising directions. The war with the Parshendi will move into a new, dangerous phase, as Dalinar leads the human armies deep into the heart of the Shattered Plains in a bold attempt to finally end it. Shallan will come along, hoping to find the legendary, perhaps mythical, city of Urithuru, which Jasnah believes holds a secret vital to mankind’s survival on Roshar. The Parshendi take a dangerous step to strengthen themselves for the human challenge, risking the return of the fearsome Voidbringers of old. To deal with it all, Kaladin must learn how to fulfill his new role, while mastering the powers of a Windrunner.

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive #1) by Brandon Sanderson

I wasn’t really planning to buy it quite yet, but the first book of The Stormlight Archive was on my wish list, and I bought it after the second book appeared in my mailbox. Since I was sent a hardcover, I needed another massive hardcover to match because I’m like that, and I saw there were only 11 copies left on Amazon as bargain books. With the second book coming out soon, I was afraid that would be the end of the hardcover copies so I bought one while I could (and was a little dismayed that it didn’t match as well as I’d hoped since it’s not quite as tall as the second book, but oh well, it’s closer to matching than the paperback would have been).

An excerpt from The Way of Kings can be read on Tor.com.

 

Roshar is a world of stone and storms. Uncanny tempests of incredible power sweep across the rocky terrain so frequently that they have shaped ecology and civilization alike. Animals hide in shells, trees pull in branches, and grass retracts into the soiless ground. Cities are built only where the topography offers shelter.

It has been centuries since the fall of the ten consecrated orders known as the Knights Radiant, but their Shardblades and Shardplate remain: mystical swords and suits of armor that transform ordinary men into near-invincible warriors. Men trade kingdoms for Shardblades. Wars were fought for them, and won by them.

One such war rages on a ruined landscape called the Shattered Plains. There, Kaladin, who traded his medical apprenticeship for a spear to protect his little brother, has been reduced to slavery. In a war that makes no sense, where ten armies fight separately against a single foe, he struggles to save his men and to fathom the leaders who consider them expendable.

Thief's Magic by Trudi Canavan

Thief’s Magic (Millennium’s Rule #1) by Trudi Canavan

Thief’s Magic, written by Aurealis Award winning and Sunday Times bestselling author Trudi Canavan, will be released in May (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). The next two books in the trilogy, Angel of Storms and Successor’s Son, are scheduled for release in 2015 and 2016.

 

In a world where an industrial revolution is powered by magic, Tyen, a student of archaeology, discovers an sentient book in an ancient tomb. Vella was once a young sorcerer-maker, until she was transformed into a useful tool by one of the greatest sorcerers of history. Since then she has been gathering information, including a vital clue to the disaster Tyen’s world faces.

Elsewhere, in an land ruled by the priests since a terrible war depleted all but a little magic, Rielle the dyer’s daughter has been taught that to use magic is to steal from the Angels. Yet she knows from her ability to sense the stain it leaves behind that she has a talent for it, and that there are people willing to teach her how to use it, should she ever need to risks the Angels’ wrath.

Further away, a people called the Travellers live their entire lives on the move, trading goods from one world to another. They know that each world has its own store of magic, reducing or increasing a sorcerer’s abilities, so that if one entered a weak world they may be unable to leave it again. Each family maintains a safe trading route passed down through countless generations and modified whenever local strife makes visiting dangerous. But this is not the only knowledge the Travellers store within their stories and songs, collected over millennia spent roaming the universe. They know a great change is due, and that change brings both loss and opportunity.

Pillar to the Sky by William R. Forstchen

Pillar to the Sky by William R. Forstchen

Tor Books is publishing NASA-Inspired Works of Fiction to advance interest and education in STEM fields. The first of these books, Pillar to the Sky, was released in February (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). An excerpt is available on Tor.com.

 

From William Forstchen, the New York Times bestselling author of One Second After, comes Pillar to the Sky, a towering epic to rank with Douglas Preston’s Blasphemy and Michael Crichton’s Prey…

Pandemic drought, skyrocketing oil prices, dwindling energy supplies and wars of water scarcity threaten the planet. Only four people can prevent global chaos.

Gary Morgan—a brilliant, renegade scientist is pilloried by the scientific community for his belief in a space elevator: a pillar to the sky, which he believes will make space flight fast, simple and affordable.

Eva Morgan—a brilliant and beautiful scientist of Ukranian  descent, she has had a lifelong obsession to build a pillar to the sky, a vertiginous tower which would mine the power of the sun and supply humanity with cheap, limitless energy forever.

Erich Rothenberg—the ancient but revered rocket-scientist who labored with von Braun to create the first rockets and continued on to build those of today.  A legend, he has mentored Gary and Eva for two decades, nurturing and encouraging their transcendent vision.

Franklin Smith—the eccentric Silicon Valley billionaire who will champion their cause, wage war with Congress and government bureaucracy and most important, finance their herculean undertaking.

The Goddard Space Flight Center—the novel’s pre-eminent hero, it’s enormous army of scientists, engineers and astronauts will design, machine, and build the space elevator. They will fight endless battles and overcome countless obstacles every step of the way.

This journey to the stars will not be easy—a tumultuous struggle filled with violence and heroism, love and death, spellbinding beauty and heartbreaking betrayal.  The stakes could not be higher.  Humanity’s salvation will hang in the balance.

House of the Rising Sun by Kristen Painter

House of the Rising Sun (Crescent City #1) by Kristen Painter

The first book in a new series by the author of the House of Comarre books will be released in May (paperback, ebook).

 

Augustine lives the perfect life in the Haven city of New Orleans. He rarely works a real job, spends most of his nights with a different human woman, and resides in a spectacular Garden District mansion paid for by retired movie star Olivia Goodwin, who has come to think of him as an adopted son, providing him room and board and whatever else he needs.

But when Augustine returns home to find Olivia’s been attacked by vampires, he knows his idyllic life has comes to an end. It’s time for revenge—and to take up the mantle of the city’s Guardian.