Black Dog, by Rachel Neumeier

Title: Black Dog
Author: Rachel Neumeier
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Publication Date: 6th February 2014 (UK)
Rating: ★★.5

BlackDog-144dpiI’d been awaiting Black Dog, by Rachel Neumeier, with a sort of vague interest: I wasn’t sold (I don’t like the cover, at all, and even after reading, I find the title confusing and that it conjures up the wrong images for the book – I’ll expand later) but I gave it a go. For around the first quarter of the book I was interested. The characters were interesting, the plot seemed to be going somewhere good and generally, it was original. I love the inclusion of characters that are different (the Mexican-American POV characters were definitely a bonus point of the book) and a different sort of approach to the setting and material at hand intrigued me.

With her twin brother (who is present and alive and not a plot device by being dead and stuff, because I am so over dead siblings) and her elder brother, Natividad’s story begins on the run. She is headed for Dimilioc in hopes of finding refuge and safety and protection in the midst of the black dogs her American father used to be part of. Alejandro, her black dog big brother, doesn’t hold much hope that they will be accepted, but they were both convinced by the very persuasive and savvy Miguel that coming here was the best way to seek protection from the powerful black dog who slaughtered their parents and destroyed their lives.

It remains to be seen, however, if Miguel is right, since the welcome they receive might be enough to ruin all their plans. Never mind the fact that if he is to be accepted as a Dimilioc black wolf, Alejandro is going to have to learn both trust and control. But with a powerful enemy snapping at their heels, the addition of new Toland (their father) blood and even a Pure girl into Dimilioc might not be enough. A war has been fought and even though the vampires are gone, there are plenty of stray black dogs to join with their enemy’s army.

There is a lot going on, a lot of back story that we’re fed in small chunks throughout. However, there is never really enough to pull in interest and keep it. The story very much so revolves around Natividad’s family.

But then I realised, a little over half way through, that I just didn’t care. I didn’t find I could connect with either Natividad or Alejandro and the characters I might have best connected with (Miguel, Keziah, Ezekiel) were not POVs. Although Alejandro’s narrative is skillfully woven through with elements of his black dog, so that we never forget what he is, it did become repetitive after a time. He might have been better as a side character, and Miguel instead taking the narrative.

As for Natividad… I couldn’t warm to her. Natividad is Pure, which means she can use magic. I…am not sure what I think of the terminology, what I think of “Pure”. I don’t think I like it. It doesn’t, for me, conjure up the image of someone who can use magic, but rather something else. Something that implies any without magic, are, by extension, impure.

But regardless, I found her impossible to connect with. There seemed to be no substance to her… Nothing to really grip onto. Nor is she shallow. She is a conundrum: bland and forgettable, yet she has such deep aspects of character that I should normally be drawn to. She’s suffering from what should be some kind of yellow or orange level PTSD (I say this based on the ending, and the fact that Natividad’s inner narrative reflects as much) yet this is not properly reflected in the story or the narrative. However, the ending is absolutely pivotal on this element of Natividad’s poorly conveyed trauma. A little research into PTSD or even psychology after trauma would have solved so many problems with her narrative. In this case, Natividad’s refusal to remember and think about what happened presents a problem for me: you cannot repress a memory consciously. You cannot choose to wipe something entirely from your memory. It is an unconscious thing over which you have no control. So, with the crux of things relying on Natividad’s choice not to think and remember the death of her parents (plus, the more you try not to think of something, the more the brain works on thinking about it: there’s a psych term for this – must ask big brother), it just didn’t wash. Add that to the fact that Natividad and I did not click… I was relatively bored by the end. Furthermore, I didn’t like the direction of the plot, and didn’t like how things progressed. It just wasn’t believable or enjoyable for me.

I did, however, like how Neumeier wasn’t afraid to delve properly into the complex yet very animal instincts and politics of black dogs. I think some readers might be a little perplexed by Natividad’s role as a Pure women within the black dog society, and how she is told she must essentially mate with another of the black dogs. She is immediately “claimed” by the strongest black dog (never mind the fact he’s close to her age and she is attracted to him regardless) and that essentially is that. Okay so on the surface it’s not very feminist. But. Readers must accept that this is a pack of wolves and she is a highly prized young woman. No harm will come to her; nobody will touch her without her consent. It’s not my ideal situation, but it’s how Neumeier chose to express a different way of life, the way the black dogs live. For me it’s potato, potahto. So there we have it.

Also: the title, the cover. Black Dog. Singular. To me, this should be plural (there is not just one black dog as the title suggests) or should be replaced by “Wolves”, therefore referencing the Dimilioc wolves.

Furthermore, why is only (presumably) Alejandro on the cover, to match with the singular black dog. Never mind the fact that a black dog is a symbol of death. It is very confusing. I loved how the cover wasn’t whitewashed, but actually hated the cover.

Generally, I am so indifferent to this book. I read it, I shrugged, I moved on. I did love how the narrative, the prose sounded slightly different, slightly unique (save for the slightly stilted dialogue in places), but that’s about it. I wasn’t sold and by the end, I simply was a bit meh.

Unfortunately, a great concept that just wasn’t realised in quite the right way to pull me in.

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