The Dust of 100 Dogs
by A. S. King
I got off to a slow start with this one, and I almost gave up on it. But I'm sure glad I didn't. It turned out to be a terrific read!
300 years ago, the feared pirate Emer Morrisey was cursed with the dust of 100 dogs, forcing her to live 100 lives in canine form before she could be human again and reclaim her plundered treasure. Reborn as Saffron Adams, a seemingly normal teenager from the U.S.A., she casts aside her frustratingly selfish family and heads to Jamaica in search of what she lost in the past.
There's not much more I can say without giving too much of the plot away. But I did really enjoy this one. There was adventure, a touch of history, romance, and revenge. The story is told from three alternating perspectives: Emer's in the 1600s (third person), Fred's in 1990s Jamaica (third person), and Saffron's in 1990s America (first person). Interspersed with these narratives are little sections about dogs and their behaviour, information presumably gleaned from Saffron's past lives in canine form. At first, all this jumping around kind of threw me. The book starts off in the 1600s, then goes to the 1970s and '80s, then bounces back to the 1600s in Paris, then further back to Emer's life in Ireland before jumping into the main part of the narrative when Emer becomes a pirate. I'm not sure that I liked all that time travel, but I'm not sure how else it could have been done.
The only real question that I still have in my mind after reading the book is why Saffron identified more strongly with Emer than with her dog lives. Part of the curse was that she retained all her memories. In the present, Saffron often imagines gory fates for people who annoy her: gouging out their eyes, slicing them to ribbons, keelhauling them... obviously very piratey things. But it left me wondering. If she had lived all those lives as dogs in between, and retained all those memories, why wasn't her instinct in these gory daydreams to tear people's throats out or pee on their leg? Actually, I'm still not sure if the whole dog thing was anything more than a cute little plot device; other than forcing Emer to live as a dog, it wasn't really relevant in any other way (that I could see).
There is an interesting interview in the back of the book (in my edition, anyway) with the author and Leila from bookshelves of doom in which they discuss the nature of young adult literature. I was thinking about this as I was reading the book. What exactly is a "young adult" book? Most of the books I've read recently in that category have been pretty chaste, sweet, and appropriate even for the tweens who might be reading them. This book, on the other hand, is on the opposite end of the spectrum. There is a fair amount of violence, some of it graphic (the first paragraph has Emer cutting out someone's eyeball and rolling it in the sand). There are instances of foul language (foul enough to be bleeped on network TV, anyway). And there is also a rape scene. These things don't bother me, and I know that some teens (and even some children) have already been exposed to such things. However, I might be hesitant about recommending this book to a young teenager. What is "young adult"? Anyone between the ages of 13 and 21? I think the industry needs a better definition.
Anyway, this is definitely a book I'd recommend to older teens (as well as adults). I enjoyed the story, and it was pretty different from anything I'd ever read before.
Overall: 4 out of 5