Black Dog by Rachel Neumeier is a fresh twist on the werewolf and witch urban fantasies in the young adult genre. Black Dog focuses on the lives of three siblings as they run from Mexico to the northern United States, escaping from the stray Black Dog pack that murdered their parents. I loved the premise of werewolf myths actually coming from these black dogs with shadow magic and the idea of main characters from Mexico! However, Black Dog never pulled me in and I just couldn’t manage to connect with either of the narrators. Even when people were being eviscerated, I just didn’t care, making Black Dog a very slow read given its length.
Note: I received an eARC of Black Dog through Netgalley for an honest review. Some things may have changed in the final version.
Black Dog by Rachel Neumeier
Published by Strange Chemistry on Feb. 4th, 2014
Genres: Urban Fantasy, YA
Page Length: 448 pages
How I got my copy: NetGalley
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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 was so happy to see that Black Dog had POC characters narrating the story. This also added a fun twist with the potential to bring in more Mexican culture to the over saturated urban fantasy genre. Plus, the cover doesn’t look white-washed, woot!
- I loved the spin on werewolves that Black Dog developed. Black dogs are people that can turn into hellhounds, basically, but the transformation comes from their shadow coming up and enveloping them. There is the same struggle with the human mind versus the black dog instincts, but with the added bonus of shadows and hellish influences. The Pure magic described in the synopsis is pretty much a spin on good witches, since they use pentagrams and other religious symbols to cast protective magic. I liked the dynamic between Pure magic and black dog shadows, plus the whole sibling thing worked all these concepts together well.
- I took Spanish for a year or two when I was around five, so I definitely do not understand written Spanish. Black Dog did a fairly good job of incorporating Spanish words (since it’s narrated by Spanish-speakers), while still including enough English explanations so that I didn’t get lost.
- I was unfortunately not able to connect with either Natividad or Alejandro (the two narrators) at any point during Black Dog. While it was interesting hearing about the magic that both of them have, and Alejandro certainly has struggles with his Black Dog, they both felt like very bland characters to me. Natividad isn’t a girl that I would likely connect with if I met her in real life based on my impressions of her in Black Dog, and that is a big problem for me.
- Black Dog takes place in an alternative world from ours as far as I can tell. There is mention of vampires previously keeping the general populace unable to see magical critters, but the vampires have recently been defeated so the humans are starting to figure things out. That’s about all I know about this world, however, since that’s all that is mentioned. It felt very strange for there to be these obvious disconnects from our world, but not much to fill in the holes left behind.
- Black Dog was never able to make me feel tension for the characters’ fates, even during the action scenes. There are a couple of fairly large fights with the bad guys and people do definitely die, but I was never really worried about the main characters. There just didn’t seem to be any real risk in Black Dog in that I didn’t believe the author would let anything bad happen to our characters.
- There is a really creepy arranged marriage vibe hinted at in Black Dog. The Pure women are protected by certain Black Dogs and considered highly desirable because they can have children with Black Dogs. Therefore, when Natividad shows up at this new pack, she is informed she will have to choose someone in a few months and one of the strongest men basically lays claim to her…. What the hell???
Black Dog had a lot of potential but just ended up coming off stiff and dull. I was intrigued with the alternative world history that was hinted at, but we never got enough information to really understand what was going on in this world. I was excited to get to know some characters a little different from the typical young adult cast, but I was completely unable to connect to them for reasons I’m honestly still not able to pin down. When I finally looked at the page count of Black Dog in order to write this review, I felt a little bit better about how long it had taken me to read it, since it just felt like it kept going on. If the premise sounds really awesome to you, you might give it a try, but be prepared for a bit of a slow read.
Black Dog by Rachel Neumeier
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