Early 5bat! Review: Black Dog by Rachel Neumeier

February 4, 2014 Review 0

Early 5bat! Review: Black Dog by Rachel NeumeierBlack Dog by Rachel Neumeier
Published by Strange Chemistry on February 4, 2014
Genres: Urban Fantasy, Young Adult
Format: Paperback
Pages: 448
Source: NetGalley
Sexual Content: None.
Reviewed by: Julia
5 Stars

BLACK DOG by Rachel Neumeier takes the reader into a hidden world of magic, war, and shapeshifting that exists just behind the headlines of the human world. Think of it as Robin McKinley's SUNSHINE but with werewolves instead of vampires.

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.

BLACK DOG is impossible to put down from page one.  In one brilliant landslide of a book, Neumeier reimagines magic and shapeshifting, black dogs and vampires, and slips all of this intricate, clever world-building in around a  cast of characters that are instantly appealing. The backstory is so deftly spaced out, it's not until the end that you will realize that Neumeier has remade the world around you and that everything you expected about werewolves has subtly changed.

As a young adult novel, BLACK DOG manages to address an aggressive, primarily male dominated culture without too much titillation.  As a teenager, I would have found the prospect of being pushed into the dating pool without consequences an irresistible fantasy, and Natividad's interactions with Ezekiel are in the immature range. However, while Natividad's magical nature makes her a desirable spouse (and limits her dating pool significantly), her age and her relationship with her brothers keeps sexual politics from overwhelming the story.  In fact, every detail of BLACK DOG is well balanced. The stakes are high, the interpersonal dynamics are riveting, and the glimpses of nascent romance are sweet and sexy.

Though the magic of the final battle are a little bit vague, all preceding supernatural discussions offered just the mix of mystery and mechanics. Not so many details that the action gets bogged down, and not so much vagary that anything seems possible.  Reminiscent of Robin McKinley's SUNSHINE with a YA sensibility, BLACK DOG proves that in the hands of a master, every mythology has new adventures to offer.

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