An Oath of Dogs by Wendy N. Wagner
Recommended, especially for new SF readers!
Published by Dover Publications
Publication Date : July 4th, 2017
Available as eBook & paperback – 432 Pages
Source : NetGalley (Thank you!)
An Oath of Dogs is one of those books I like to call ‘sci-fi lite’. This would be a great book to give to a reader wanting to try adult science fiction. This has just enough to feel like it fits in the SF category but so closely follows it’s characters that it’s a relatable. It follows two characters, a woman and man who get embroiled in a murder investigation that quickly spirals into something much bigger, with very intelligent dogs. Kate Standish, who goes by Standish, as she arrives on the moon Huginn a forest rich world being logged by large corporation called Songheusser. She is accompanied by her support dog Hattie, who helps Kate with her agoraphobia. Peter Bajowski is a biologist already working on Huginn for Songheusser. He’s also grieving the death of an ex-lover who worked on Huginn, and who conveniently enough was going to be Kate’s supervisor.
The book opens with a hell of a chapter, I’d be impressed if someone wasn’t hooked by that brutal opening. From there we move to Standish as she wakes from cyro, and we’re shown immediately how important Hattie, and dogs, are important to the story. Interspersed between the chapters of Peter and Standish’s shenanigans we’re given quotes from a mysterious man and journal entries from the earliest days of Huginn. These entries and thoughts may not seem important to the plot at first but if you pay attention it can give you HUGE hints at where the story goes. Standish lands to find out her now former boss, Duncan, was reported ‘lost’ and believed to be dead and now she has his job, as well as his house. The reader knows, thanks to that brutal opening chapter, the truth about the man. We get to watch as Standish begins to step into the community, earn friends, and discover that maybe everything isn’t all right with Canaan Lake, her new little town. Not only is Duncan presumed dead but the townspeople are being plagued by a pack of rabid dogs. Dogs that seem intelligent and intent on digging up the dead around the town. They’ve been know to nose around houses and as you see later in the book, go after people.
Initially I didn’t care for Standish or Peter, but they grew on me. Standish is prickly and Peter is a bit of a wet rag. Throughout the story though they grew on me. Standish’s character seemed at times inconsistent but you could see what she was as prickly as she was. She was by no means a perfect woman or character. Peter was the same for me though I thought his character was more consistent through the novel. Once you figure out why he is the way he is, you can understand him. Past our two main characters, we see some great attempts at character depth on others but I’m not sure if I was fully convinced on some of them. I wanted more depth in some of those people, but I do like what we got.
Besides some what felt like inconsistent character behavior (which seemed to smooth out as the book went on) my other problem with the book was just the way it seemed to jump over things, again at the beginning. I felt like maybe things were trimmed or cut that would have filled in gaps or explained missing time. Things like jumps between when Standish is at home then at someone else’s house, staying there, then back at her own home. We can safely assume why and it might mention in passing, but it felt like something was missing in the execution of this. Past the half way mark this seemed to even out. I’m not entirely sure if this is due to the copy I had, how I read it, or the way the book actually is, but it did affect my enjoyment.
Other than that I liked a lot of things about this book. The focus on therapy animals, the neo-Mennonite community and their impact in Canaan Lake, the talk about the biology of the planet and the hints at the way it changed the people. In fact I think the book might be entirely worth a read just for the therapy dog and the unique neo-Mennonite community. Those are things I don’t think that I’ve ever read about in a SF book. They bright a splash of depth and color that I really didn’t expect, and honestly why I rated the book so highly. I loved the interplay of that community and the religion with how they settled the moon for Songheusser (not to mention the diary entries) and how that affected the story. I also just got excited everything Hattie was on the page, which was really most the pages.
I’d definitely read it again and really recommend this one for new readers of SF or for someone interested in some really unique and different elements.
Cover Thoughts: Initially I was not impressed with the cover, but once you get up on it and see the details, the line work it really pops. The meticulously hidden details are amazing, I love pieces like this. You don’t realize what you’re looking at unless you look deep. I highly recommend inspecting this cover closely. I’m not surprised either, browsing the artist’s site, JOEY HI-FI, I can see this is something he excels at. The symmetry in it just makes me so happy, look at that bottom edge with the branches and smoke. How can that not make you happy?