Review: Black Dog by Rachel Neumeier

February 8, 2014 4 stars, Book Review 3 ★★★★

Black Dog

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.

I’ll bet you were thinking werewolves when you read the Black Dog book description. Well you’d be wrong folks! These wolves are totally not what you are used to and I was so absolutely and undoubtedly happy with the differences. Instead these black dogs, or black wolves depending on who you ask, are a type of hell hound. Their shadow is the hound that tries to dominate them and gives them a lot of their impulses, and of course all of their shifter powers. When shifted their shadows take the injuries which they can then shift back to human allowing their shadow to carry away the injuries away from their human bodies. You will also sometimes see phantom shadow claws or other features on their human form.  I really loved the way the author recreated the werewolf in Black Dog.

Natividad and her two brothers are on the run from the their parent’s murderer and his band of black dogs. Her brother Alejandra is a black dog himself, while her twin brother Miguel is human and Natividad? – she is what is known as ‘Pure’. Insert the word witch there it would adequately sum up what she is. Her kind has the ability to caste protective magic and calm the violent natures of black dogs. Pures are either highly valued as mates, or hunted. So she isn’t a shifter at all. How are they all related and yet so different? Wel…you would just have to read to understand. The dynamic here and the way the author wove these things together just worked for me.

I enjoyed the main characters Natividad and Alejandro’s story (they are the perspectives from which the book is told, though of course mostly its from Natividad’s perspective). Considering I read this book in one sitting, you could say I quite literally gobbled it up. So of course that automatically jumps Black Dog up in my eyes since I pretty much didn’t put it down until I was done. Given that, there were still some definite issues I had with it overall – but I do want to point out I read the Advance Reader Edition of this book NOT the final published version so some of these things may or may not have changed in the final version. Onto it shall we?

While the story arc for the characters was strong, the background history of the alternate version of our world was a touch weak. The story is set in a time after a war with vampires has taken place (I think worldwide?), so it is referenced a lot but there just isn’t enough detail given on these points to properly acquaint the reader with the state of things in the world. One point that also bugged me a bit was the amount of Spanish in the dialogue between the siblings. I liked the fact that the main characters were Hispanic, it was definitely a great to see especially since I think in young adult fiction I’ve read the dominating ethnicity is usually Caucasian. However due to the amount of Spanish in their dialogue, even with what I think were the English translations woven in I constantly felt the need to look up the translations on the internet to make sure that I wasn’t missing something. Perhaps I was being a bit anal because I don’t like feeling like I’m not catching the little nuances. I do have a friend who read Black Dog as well and loved all the Spanish. She felt the internal translations within context was great. So I definitely think this point will either work or not work depending on each reader. The only other thing that irked me was the speech patterns didn’t change enough from character to character. At one point I felt that if I read another sentence that ended with “you know?” I was going to have a hissy fit. I would understand if the three siblings talked similarly but when similar speech patterns showed up as well on the other characters it annoyed me a touch.

Aside from these very little things, I still REALLY enjoyed Black Dog. Natividad was of course headstrong and thought she knew best, which hey doesn’t every teenage girl? Her brother Miguel always seemed to really know what was best and Alejandra – he’s your typical over protective oldest brother. They each had their character role but they all worked those roles well. Perhaps they were a bit over simplified at times and could use some stronger character development and that is what I’m hoping for in the next book.

I think some readers might be concerned that Natividad is 15 and yet when they go to join the Dimiloc wolves she is essentially told in 4 months she has to choose a partner (that’s right a mate folks) because Pure women are expected to breed. I personally didn’t see anything wrong with this and yeah she’s young and yes one particular guy says he better be the one she chooses, and so what if he’s older than her and she isn’t even yet 18 – all of this just didn’t bug me. It might bug some other readers though. I remember seeing young girls when I was in high school and they were anywhere from 13 to 16 dating 18 to 20 year olds. Does it make it right? No, perhaps not – but does it make it realistic? Yes, I totally it does.

There was blood, death, battles and action. The pace was great and I really dug the budding romantic feelings coming from Natividad. The strongest point of this book was the completely unique take on werewolves. I’m hoping in the next book we will learn more about state of this world and it’s history. Lovers of werewolf fiction will hopefully find this take on the lore a refreshing treat.

Read a guest post from the author on “Designing a New Kind of Werewolf, and Their World”

Black Dog (#1)

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• This book was provided by the publisher for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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Tabitha (Pabkins)

When I'm in the zone I can flip book pages faster than the eye can see - screaming "More Input!" I'm a book, yarn, & art supply hoarding goblin who loves to draw, make toys and craft all sorts of creepy cute things. My current habit is to listen to audio books while I'm arting it up!
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3 Responses to “Review: Black Dog by Rachel Neumeier”

  1. Mogsy

    Incorporating another language into the dialogue and finding a balance is always going to be tough. A few instances here and there doesn’t bother me at all, but if there’s too much I don’t know if I would take the time to go online and work out translations. At the same time, if not knowing won’t take away from the story, then I am okay with that too 🙂
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