Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Dust of 100 Dogs by A.S. King

Plot Summary: In the late seventeenth century, famed teenage pirate Emer Morrisey was on the cusp of escaping the pirate life with her one true love and unfathomable riches when she was slain and cursed with "the dust of one hundred dogs," dooming her to one hundred lives as a dog before returning to a human body-with her memories intact. Now, she's a contemporary American teenager (Saffron) and all she needs is a shovel and a ride to Jamaica.

The concept behind this book is wondrously imaginative. Who hasn’t thought about what it would be like to be reincarnated hundreds of years from now? And how cool would it be to keep your memories? Especially if you know where treasure is buried. : )

This story is packed with action and adventure, great swashbuckling, and an independent heroine. Lots of stuff to love, and the pacing certainly kept me reading well into the night. It is chock full of heavy issues, though, such as sex, rape, slavery, stealing, runaways, theft, and much more. So this is definitely not a book for the younger audience. It’s more an older teen/adult crossover.

I did have a few issues...

As with all my book discussions, there are SPOILERS below.

The definition of reincarnation is one soul moving through time in multiple bodies. But the memories are wiped clean with each incarnation, so the soul is almost reborn, molding into a new person each time. But in Emer’s case, she was cursed to live the lives of 100 dogs while keeping her memories intact. Essentially, she’s the same person living through multiple bodies. Yet, when she’s born as Saffron, it’s like she becomes two different people, especially toward the end. I just couldn’t get over that, because it made no sense. I know, this is fiction, where anything can happen. But the author still needs to set down rules to her world, and then follow them to the letter.

In the beginning, Emer and Saffron are clearly the same person, working toward the same goal: finding the treasure she’d buried 300 years ago. But, at the end, there was a shift – the unchanged Emer living with Saffron in the same body. This is most noticeable when Saffron is searching for the treasure, but feeling like Emer had abandoned her. It didn’t make sense to me because it wasn’t consistent with the rest of the story. We see the same thing when we switch to Fred’s point of view. He fights with voices in his head, the loudest one being the voice of the Frenchman (though this isn’t confirmed until the end). For me, this made the conclusion feel contrived. If you’re changing the rules of the story, that means that something isn’t working, and you need figure out what it is so you can fix it. Not an easy thing to do, but you will have a better story in the end.

Another big thing for me was Emer’s lives as various dogs. In 300 years, there was no mention of her ever being a mother to pups. I just can’t believe that, especially in the times before dogs were spayed. And, if she had been a mother, even to pups, that would have changed her quite a bit, especially when she was born as Saffron. Having been a mother, even to pups, she would have seen her new mother differently. She would have related in some way, even if it was to agree that children were as much a burden as her pups had been – always fighting over each other to get at her milk, poking and pulling at her, being loud and irritating, etc. Or, she would have had the opposite reaction and seen how much of a miracle it is to create a new life. I was ready, willing, and happy to become a mother, and it still changed me in ways I could never have imagined. I also know others who were not ready to be mothers, and they had a much harder time dealing with the changes. Emer would have gone through all of this, and come out different in some respects. Especially since she’d had 300 years, and who knows how many litters, to ponder the subject.

I also had some difficulty with the dog facts. I will say that some of them were highly effective at reflecting the current mood and flavor of the story. Others brought the story to a halt, and I found myself skimming. But what really bothered me was that a few dog facts weren’t facts at all. Especially the one that goes something like this: if dogs ruled the world, there would be food and drink and fun for all. This is most definitely NOT true. Dogs living among other dogs, i.e. in a pack, have a hierarchy, and there are always squabbles over who gets the most food. The lowest members of the pack do not enjoy the bounty that the alpha/beta types enjoy. And then there’s the packs that fight other packs over territory. Even among domesticated dogs, you still see this hierarchal behavior, though to a lesser extent. So, while I found that anecdote amusing, I just couldn’t get over the fact that it’s just not true. And it made me question the other ‘dog facts.’

There’s one more thing that bothered me, and that was the romance at the end. Emer spends years with David. During that time we get to know him, and I grew to like him a lot. We didn’t get that time with Seanie, so we never got to know him, and, as a result, I wasn’t cheering for him in the end. Plus, I never really felt Emer’s deep and total love for him. Probably because she allowed herself to be raped by the Frenchman, and then enjoyed herself in her affair with David. If she was still so in love with Seanie, then we needed to see more of her thoughts and actions on that. Maybe she would actually try to find him and fail, or she would pretend she was with Seanie when she was really with David. Something, anything, to show us where her thoughts were. But there was none of that, so I actually wanted her to choose David instead of Seanie at the end.

Still, this is a highly unique book that will keep you reading, and very entertained.


Danyelle L. said...

The premise sounds fascinating! I love your reviews! How goes your WIP?

C.R. Evers said...

sounds very interesting. I may have to check this one out too.

Carrie Harris said...

I agree that this book felt pretty adult. Definitely for older/more mature teens. I liked it too, but I felt like the ending came too fast. Everything happened so quickly, and then BAM! It was all over.

And yeah, I wanted her to pick David too.

Unknown said...

YES! I've actually read this one and can participate in the comments!!! :)

I was OK with the end, and OK with her picking Seanie in the end, actually. I was even ok with the reincarnation issues you pointed out--I recognized all these things, then just thought: eh, I'll let it slide.

But the biggest thing that bothered me was that the dog lives did *not* seem to effect her at all. I wanted to see how a person would be different after three centuries as a dog, and I never saw that. She had no doggy habits, seemed to have learned nothing from the dogs. Her dog facts (and I was disappointed there were so few) were...mild. Not really a part of the story. Not *enough*

A.S. King said...

Thanks so much for reading and reviewing the book, Tabitha. Best of luck with your fiction--can't wait to read some!


PJ Hoover said...

I loved this book! But I was totally rooting for David!!!

Tabitha said...

Danyelle - I love how creative this premise is. And guess what? I finished my WIP yesterday!! Woohoo!! :) Now, I need feedback. :)

Christy - it's definitely an interesting read. If you like pirates, you'll like this story. :)

Carrie - yeah, the ending was a bit sudden, but it didn't bother me too much. But I *really* wanted her to pick David. :)

Beth - it's funny how what bothers one person doesn't bother the next. :) I also agree that her lives as a dog didn't seem to change her, and of course it would have. I think the dog facts were the author's way of introducing that change, but it didn't work for me. I didn't see enough to consider it actual change.

Amy - thanks so much for stopping by!! Your book has spurred some great discussion! :)

Tabitha said...

PJ - it's such a fun book, isn't it? And yeah, I really liked David, too. :)