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Ursula Vernon: Black Dogs Part One: The House of Diamond Ursula Vernon: Black Dogs Part Two: The Mountain of Iron I'm reviewing these together because it's really one story in two books. In The House of Diamond Lyra is orphaned in one violent incursion into her previously peaceful home led by her bastard half-brother. The House of Volfrieds was one of the most important houses on the River Tanglelore, but now it's destroyed. She escapes by hiding in a cupboard and runs off ill prepared for survival. She's found by Sadrao, a dog soldier, literally a sentient upright dog-person with warrior skills and an inbuilt need to protect. She goes from a sheltered comfortable life to a tough life on the road while Sadrao tries to teach her to fight. They meet up with Sadrao's old friend Sinai and her lover Jacyl, elves of Anu'tintavel who have been charged with transporting the half-elf Trent to the mind wizards of the House of Diamond. Trent is the son of dark wizard Vade, got by rape on Sinai's cousin, the elf Lythara. The mind wizards should be able to ascertain whether he's genuinely escaped from his father or whether he's a plant, not to be trusted. They meet dangers on the road and Lyra gradually falls for Trent, so when the House of Diamond turns out to be not what they all expected, she has to carry out a daring rescue.
This is the second half of the story begun in The House of Diamond. In the Mountain of Iron, Lyra, Trent and Sadrao are journeying to warn the elves of danger from Trent's wizard father, Vade, along with Spite and Gunnar, an acerbic Ferran and a giant Slothan. A storm of cataclysmic proportions separates Lyra from her companions and she's trapped in a cave system full of sentient, evil hyena-people. She escapes, but accepts hospitality from the wrong person, and meets Kuroinu. Both of them are rescued by Trent's magic. Lyra is devastated when Trent is recaptured by his father, but it's not the only shock she'll receive. Lyara's new talents, learned on the journey, are going to come in handy for a battle she never expected to have to fight.
Apparently these books were written when Ursula Vernon was still in her teens, so <respect>. They show the development of the writer that is to come.
standard quest plot, with appealing central characters, interesting world, evil villains and many armed and magical conflicts...straightforward chronological telling, predictable betrayals and twists...a bit too much "sweet romance", but, on the whole, a pleasing read...cute illustrations, and very suitable for adventure-seeking teens...a pleasant read for a lazy afternoon...
When I was a teen, I was playing D&D and vaguely considering what I would do with my life. I was most assuredly not writing a fantastic book with great characters and an entirely unique world. You can see (read?) proto-Clockwork Boys-esque stuff in this but it stands on its own. I finished it and IMMEDIATELY ordered the second book. I would love to play in a D&D campaign with Kingfisher as DM. That would be awesome.
We were looking through the new offers on my kindle and they both saw the title, Dog Soldier. They laughed because that is what my old friends called me. We read it and laughed because it is really inventive and the grandkids were laughing and saying to me "was that what you were like? Looking after people and helping kids?" so we laughed and read it again, worthwhile book
I wish I could give this 4.5 stars. It's not perfect, but it's an engrossing work (as is the other half of the duology) that does not fall into the trap of triteness. The characters are fresh, the world is appealing even when it's horrid, and the plotting is excellent.
I didn't read the intro, so it wasn't until after I'd finished the second book that I discovered the author had written this in her teens. Her mature work, either under her own name or as T. Kingfisher, is spectacular and identifiable as hers. That easy identification is the only thing missing here, but all the other things I love about Vernon's work are present.
I love just about everything I've read by Ursula Vernon (and by her alias, T. kingfisher) but this book is, if not outright bad, significantly more mediocre than all those other books. The author's note says she wrote it when she was a teenager, which is more impressive than anything I've ever done, but, unfortunately, it kind of shows.
The good: Sadrao is a joy. The bad: Lyra, like many teenaged protagonist characters, falls into the common first-novel trap of having too many skills, of moving too far from where she begins too quickly. Her character arc suffers for this, I think, as do her relationships to the other characters. The awkward: -The love subplot. It is extremely perfunctory, and does not feel well developed. I know that this author can write wonderful, heartwarming love stories now, but this first one is... boring. Like dry white toast.
So... Yeah. Read *Summer in Orcus* instead. That book is amazing.
Kids are bloodthirsty critters, they never bat an eye at the grim tales of the Grimm brothers. They cheer when the wolf has its belly cut open, goats extracted, and filled with boulders to then fall in the well and drown.
However, this starts with the protagonist discovering her presumed half sister raped and with a cut throat in her (protagonist's) bed, the house is awash with blood, everybody else massacred - better not try to picture it too vividly or the bile may rise. I feel very ambiguous about giving these two books (because they are much the same when it comes to gore and pain) to prepubescent kids. And to be clear: I loathe censorship and the molly-coddling of kids. But there's some real horror here; more horrible than Lovecraft could ever have dreamed of. Poe, maybe.
Setting the horror aside, fantastic fantasy adventure. The protagonist (slowly turning into heroine) and her friends get into lots of scrapes, magical, mundane, and otherwise not to mention finding treachery, and they get out again. Not often without significant amounts of scarring.
If you think your stomach can handle it, you could do much worse than buying the Black Dogs books. They are very well written.
This is very clearly the first novel by Ursula Vernon, and it reads a lot like a D&D campaign, which isn't necessarily the same thing as a good book. Still, the characters are clearly defined, the plot comes together without a lot of telling or telegraphing, and the Bad Guys are nicely chewing up the scenery. Read this if you are a completist, or if you like D&D that much; otherwise chalk this one up to Beginner's Writing and get you the latest from Ms. Vernon.