Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Shadow Twin, by Rachel Neumeier

I'm astonished to see that I've gone a whole month without a blog post. (You, I'm sure are less astonished, given my complete inability to conform to any blog posting schedule.) Partly it's because my writing time and energy has been going into my WIP, so that's good, but partly it's because I haven't read much I feel like reviewing (I haven't read much, period, and a lot of it has been rereads.)

I'm going to be lazy and cross-post my Goodreads review of the latest Black Dog book, because it should be on my blog, too.

A bit of an intro: the Black Dog series is a modern paranormal about werewolves, with an interesting take on them: being a Black Dog isn't infectious, it's genetic, and into some Black Dog families are born the Pure, who have magic that can help black dogs control their demon halves. Without the Pure, black dogs are savage hunters who kill without thought. With Pure magic, they can live peaceably with each other and with humans. Dimilioc is a civilized Black Dog house constantly at war with stray black dogs and vampires. Three siblings—Pure Natividad, human Miguel and black dog Alejandro—come seek refuge with Dimilioc when their parents are killed by a particularly nasty black dog pack. Interesting relationship and power dynamics ensue, intercut with exciting magical battles. There's romance, but family is what these books are all about.

There are now three novels and two short-story collections, and the story isn't finished yet (yay!); another short-story collection is coming next. Start at the beginning, and don't neglect the stories, as they contain key plot and character development. (I actually think I like the short stories best, because they're so focussed on characters; the novels are from Natividad, Miguel and Alejandro's POVs, and the short stories allow us into the other characters' heads, so we can fall in love with them, too.)

Here's what I posted on Goodreads about Shadow Twin (no spoilers, but it's a review for those who've read the other books, since you won't want to start with this one):

A great birthday present! [I celebrated by dropping everything and spending my entire day reading this!] Everything you want from a Black Dog book, with a focus on Miguel and Alejandro coming into their own. Some great scenes where Miguel is right about everything, and some great scenes where he isn't! Alejandro develops his relationship with Grayson and establishes more clearly his position in Dimilioc. There are new characters, with all the interesting power dynamics that entails. Colonel Herrod gets a major role. (Justin and Keziah are off-screen for this adventure, sadly.)

The plot of the Black Dog books is always the same—nasty, evil demonic threat appears, black dogs fight back, get almost defeated, and then Natividad comes up with some innovative form of magic to save the day. The magic is always interesting, and follows enough rules so that it isn't just *handwave magical solution*, and Natividad is always fun to watch as she blunders by instinct and ridiculous fearlessness into her latest invention.

But the reason I keep rereading these books is the characters and their interactions. Neumeier does such a good job of exploring power, authority, loyalty, trust, and she makes you care about all the characters so much—the scenes between Ezekiel and Grayson kill me every time, and there's a great one in this book. Also family: it's great to see Natividad and her brothers' unbreakable bond continue, and also for them to begin to feel that Dimilioc is their family now. Yeah, there's the odd throat that gets ripped out or head that gets thrown across a room (that one really deserved it, trust me!), but really this is a book about relationships, and about what it means to be civilized, and to be a family.

Favourite quotation:

Miguel added, "God, I need a bath. And a big cup of coffee." Alejandro frowned at him. "You need twelve hours' sleep and the hearts of your enemies on a plate."

Have you tried the Brookside dark chocolate candies with acai or pomegranate or whatever centres (because that makes them totally nutritious, right??). I cannot stop eating them, just like I cannot stop reading these books. More sophisticated than your typical candy, and with, you know, anti-oxidants and, uh, stuff.

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