Saturday, February 25, 2012

Book Review #8: City of Dogs

I have not been the world's best reader thus far in 2012.  (Can you believe I STILL haven't read The Hunger Games yet?  Shame on me!)  But I am pleased to say I just finished reading another lovely Animal Fantasy book that I am excited to share with you.  This book is Livi Michael's wonderful middle grade novel called City of Dogs.  I had never heard of it before, but it caught my eye as I was walking through the library.  One glance at the cover made me say, "Oooh, I want to read that!"

Here's the summary blurb from Barnes and Noble:

Sam has always wanted a dog, but Jenny is a dog like no other. She has come from another world—a parallel world of mythology, where the whims of the gods decide the course of Destiny. Jenny fled in terror after her attempt to save the life of her first beloved boy interrupted the gods' plans for a battle for control of the world. But now her escape threatens Sam's world as well. So Jenny has to convince her motley pack of dog friends—tiny Pico, giant Gentleman Jim, slow-moving Boris, excitable Checkers, and nervous Flo—that it's their destiny to restore the worlds to order before it's too late.

Norse mythology, a huge respect for the hearts and minds of dogs, and many dashes of humor combine to tell the tale of a grand, epic quest to save the world for humans, gods, and dogs.

I can honestly say this is one of the most interesting books I have ever read.  Not once while I was reading did I feel that anything was formulaic or cliche, and I was constantly surprised by what happened next.  The blend of mythologies is intriguing, and Michael ties the variety of threads so carefully into one beautifully crafted story.  My two favorite aspects of this book, though, are definitely Michael's skill with voice and her creative utilization of mythological canines.
City of Dogs is told from multiple points of view, including Jenny and her five dog friends, as well as Sam and his Aunty Dot.  The voice of four-legged characters is so important in Animal Fantasy books, and Michael's canine voices are both truthful and fresh.  Each canine has their own mountains to climb and ways they shine, and their separate voices convey these.  Poor Flo is a nervous, worry-wort poodle, yet witty and intelligent, too.  The spastic mutt, Checkers, eats cushions and computer cords left and right, but bounds into battle and protects his pals from thunderstorms without a second thought. And little Pico the chihuahua may see the world from inside a purse, but his heart is as big as the universe.  Each dog voice is distinctly "dog," but full of deeper thoughts and emotions than just, "Must chase squirrel..." and, "Me want treat!"  It's easy to imagine any real-world canine thinking and acting as Michael presents her pooches, and that is certainly a remarkable feat to accomplish.        

With the twining of so many mythologies, I was happy to see that Michael used a variety of mythological canines in her story.  From the Norse wolf, Fenrir, to the hound of Hades, Cerberus, to ones I'd never even heard of like Black Shuck, the cast of mythological dogs adds an extra richness to the story.  One of Michael's overarching themes is that dogs helped shape the world, and humans should respect their canine partners in turn.  By showing the wealth of canines that shaped mythology, too, this theme becomes even clearer.  And of course, the mythological dogs are a treat in themselves, wagging their monstrous tails and getting upset tummies after devouring the sun and moon.  I thoroughly enjoyed Michael's perspective that even mythological super-canines are still dogs at heart.

If you write Animal Fantasy and want to study a great example of voice and character, this is definitely a must-read book for you.  And if you write mythological-inspired stories, you should definitely see how Michael weaves well-known lore into her own unique tale.  And if you just love dogs, you will not be able to resist the delightful canines in this tale.  I guarantee City of Dogs will keep you turning the pages and guessing until the very last word.

You can check out Livi Michael's website here, where the original UK version of the book is called Sky Wolves:  And do let me know if you read the book; I'd love to hear what you think! :)

Happy reading!

Note: I could not find a book blurb on Michael's website, so I decided to just use the one on the Barnes & Noble website here.  The US cover art is also from Barnes & Noble and owned by Michael.                

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