Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Review of The Gaslight Dogs

The Gaslight Dogs is the newest novel by Karin Lowachee, author of a science fiction trilogy comprised of Warchild, Burndive and Cagebird. According to the author's forum and a Twitter comment she made, there are two sequels to The Gaslight Dogs planned, although it sounds as if they are not yet under contract. This novel definitely feels incomplete on its own since there are still a lot of unanswered questions upon reaching the end - it seems like a first novel in a series that is setting up future installments.

Sjennonirk, a spiritwalker of the Aniw people, is uneasy by the arrival of traders when they come armed. Her fears come true when she is awakened in the middle of the night by a man standing over her with a gun. Before she realizes what is happening, Sjenn kills the man at the urging of the inner spirit she refers to as her Dog. Although Sjenn flees, she is captured and held in a prison ship where she is visited by Father Bari, a priest she had considered a friend until she began to blame him for the presence of the foreigners. Once again, Sjenn's Dog takes over, but this time it emerges as a wolf and tears Father Bari to shreds, leaving Sjenn's human body unconscious upon the floor. This canine cannot be killed, and the men on the ship do not know how to get rid of it.

However, General Fawle believes he may know of a way to banish the wolf. He's been reading Father Bari's journal and has come to the conclusion that the girl and the animal are the same being. For some reason, he is convinced his son Captain Jarrett Fawle will be able to return the girl to her body if he studies the priest's writings. Although Jarrett is skeptical, he is successful and his father strikes a bargain with the girl - he'll keep her out of the prison if she will teach his son about her Dog.

After hearing how excellent Karin Lowachee's other books were, I was excited to read this one but I ended up somewhat disappointed. The Gaslight Dogs was by no means a bad book as it did have some great writing and an intriguing world mythology. However, it was difficult to get into, partially because there were a lot of names that were difficult to pronounce and also because so many terms were dropped without explanation close to the beginning. This may have been just me, though, because this was one of the books I read when I was sick so my brain was probably not quite all there (the confusing part, that is - names like 'Sjennonirk' certainly don't roll off the tongue for a lot of us). Even later, it did move very slowly at times - it would start to pick up, then it would slow down again for awhile before getting interesting again.

There are two main characters, a soldier named Jarrett and an Aniw spiritwalker named Sjennonirk. As a young woman from a culture based on the Inuit, Sjennonirk is the more fascinating of the two but she is also not as sympathetic as Jarrett. Her perspective is more distant, and although she wants to go home and has a strong drive to protect her people, she's not as easy to relate to as Jarrett. He can be cynical and has a rocky relationship with his father, who is his superior in the armed forces and is not particularly pleasant toward his son. Although it turns out Jarrett has some unusual issues as well, more of his problems are everyday occurrences for ordinary people than Sjenn's, as her main problems are more extreme - being imprisoned and having an ancestral spirit that takes over for her and murders people, for instance. In general, I found Jarrett's point of view sections more absorbing than Sjenn's and thought his character was easier to connect with, although I can't say I was extremely attached to either main protagonist.

In spite of the fact that the two main protagonists are a man and a woman, there is no romance. As much as I enjoy a good romantic subplot, it is refreshing to see a male/female relationship in a book that doesn't head in the direction one might expect it to.

The setting is not a medieval fantasy world and the mythology was inspired by the Inuit of Canada. The Aniw seem to be similar to the Inuit and have a similar culture. If not for the priesthood of the Seven Deities and the existence of little spirits, it could almost seem like the far north of the world at an earlier time. These are some intriguing concepts, and I hope more will be revealed about both in future installments.

The writing was solid with some decent dialogue and character development through conversations:
"Rough patrol?" the father prompted.

It made him laugh. Not the most logical reaction in a holy house after the week he had endured. His voice sounded hollow as it rose to the pointed ceiling. The rafters tittered back, some hill mouse scampering in the dusk. Jarrett glanced up toward the unseen rodent with his gun -- that wasn't logical in a holy house either, but he didn't care. Fatigue ran respectful concern into the ground, even as the priest's eyes tracked the weapon warily.

"The abos are like those furry things," Jarrett declared. He was drunk on sleeplessness.

"How so?"

"Well," he said, "Do you ever understand the intentions of a mouse? Occasionally they slip into your bed and bite your toes."

"Surely the warbands do more than bite your toes."

"No. No they don't." He leaned forward, arms on the back of the father's pew, gun pointed down between them. "Have you ever seen a man try to walk without toes? Don't underestimate the intelligence of a mouse. The little furry bastard can bring down an army just by nibbling away at its toes." [pp. 16 - 17]
The series has a lot of potential, but on its own it's difficult to judge The Gaslight Dogs since it feels like so much of the story is still left to be told. It's well written and there were some good moments with the characters, but it feels as though it's setting up its sequels with a lot of slow pacing until closer to the end.

My Rating: 6/10

Where I got my reading copy: It is a review copy from the publisher.

Read an Excerpt

Other Reviews:


orannia said...

Kristen - you review so well! I've heard of this book and I am intrigued by plot (and the snippet you provided sounds good)...but I'm not sure about reading a book that is obviously part of a bigger story with no certainity that story will be continued. Although, saying that, if I don't read the book then that kind of convinces the publisher not to continue...

...partially because there were a lot of names that were difficult to pronounce...

ARRGHHH! I'm OCD when it comes to names. I stop everytime I read a name I can't pronounce smoothly, and if it's a character's name it drives me batty.

Kristen said...

Orannia - Thank you so much! :) I agree, that does make reading it a bit of a conundrum. It's definitely one I would prefer to read as part of a larger series, but if too many people decide to wait for the rest of the books, they may never get written.

But then, if you read the other review I linked to, that reviewer felt that it was more complete than I did so a lot of other people may feel differently. I didn't realize it was part of a series going on since I hadn't heard anything about more books, so having it end with so much left to tell may have come to me as more of a surprise.

I'm OCD when it comes to names too. My husband usually makes up a nickname when reading something like that, but I just can't do that... I have to try to pronounce the whole thing every single time.

Anastasia said...

Kristin, too bad you didn't like it. I haven't read the book yet, although I will 100% be buying it. Like Calico Reaction (interesting blog, btw), Karin Lowachee is on my Must-buy list. I'm going to remember that blog, it's good to find reviews who love the same authors. Difficult names bother me too.

The quality of books does vary for an author usually. You may love one book of theirs and not care for another one at all. For example, Storm Constantine - how different was Sea Dragon Heir from Wraeththu for you? I still think you'd really like the first trilogy by Lowachee wrote, but it's probably better to buy the book that's the most recent release. You've done your part :-)

Anastasia said...

(con't) Or Catherine Asaro - The Last Hawk was so much better than Ascendant Sun. Or Elizabeth Bear for me - By the Mountain Bound blew Hammered or Blood & Iron out of the water.

I need to remember to check Calico Reaction every once in a while to participate in their book club - I've read Alchemy of Stone (very good, a good candidate for a re-read) and own Natural History. Do you have either of those books?

Anastasia said...

You know what a good book review blog is?

Empty Your Heart of Its Mortal Dream

It's very new, but Paul's reading lists is excellent - precisely the books I'm interested in, and his posts have been very thoughtful & interesting. It needs to get on more blog lists.

Unknown said...

So Kristen -
Was the copy an ARC? you did say review copy -
They almost always feel unfinished.... from the few that I have read, anyways..
I was very hopeful about this book as well. Thanks for the review.

Kristen said...

Anastasia - Calico Reaction is a great blog - glad to hear you liked it too. :)

Even though I wasn't crazy about this one, I was still planning to give Lowachee's scifi trilogy a try. You're right that often you can love one book by an author and not like some of their other books as much. It's happened to me several times - with Sea Dragon Heir or Ascendant Sun like you mentioned as well as some of Linnea Sinclair's books. So I wasn't planning on letting that stop me from trying out some of her other books, especially since I did think some of her writing was great. I downloaded a whole bunch of book samples to read on my iPad a couple of nights ago and Warchild was one of them. If it seems interesting, I might buy it - I've been hesitant to because it is so expensive for a mass market paperback but the ebook version is at least somewhat cheaper.

I have not read Unnatural History, although I have considered picking it up a couple of times. All the reviews I've read are pretty mixed, so I never have, though. Did you like it?

I have read The Alchemy of Stone and I reviewed it as well. It was a great book; I liked it a lot.

Thanks for the blog recommendation - I'll have to check it out!

Shellie - Although I did receive this book for review, it was the finished copy and not an ARC. I try to specify if it's an ARC or not and if I just say "review copy" instead of "ARC" it means I received a copy of the actual completed book for review.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review! The two planned sequels delve much further into the Aniw and the Church of the Seven Gods, and Jarrett and Sjenn's 'roles' in it all, definitely.

Kristen said...

Karin - Thanks for your comment and for tweeting the review today too! I'm glad to hear that the next two books will have more about the religious structure since I am rather curious about that.

Oh, and I've meant to add here a couple of times that I did read that sample of the first few chapters of Warchild I downloaded and liked it A LOT. When I do get around to reading some e-books, that will most likely be one of the first ones I get.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate all the word of mouth that blog posts generate for a writer, especially because I would love to have the sequels out there to complete the story for people!

ediFanoB said...

I read The Gaslight Dogs.
I think names are always a topic. To be honest most of the time I spell names as I like them.
All in all I liked the book.
As part of a series it is a good one. It is a real good base. I really would like to know how the story continues.

As a stand alone book I would agree with all the things you wrote in your review.

Kristen said...

ediFanoB - It does have potential to be an interesting series. I think reading the next one or two books would be necessary for me to fully decide what I think. The first book had enough good points that I will probably read them to see where it goes.

Anonymous said...

nice to see a reveiw that isnt loving this POC (piece of CRAP) to bits. im sorry but to me it is. anybody seen dances with wolves? well this is practically the same damn thing. and when you have a charactors name you cant even pronounce, you know thats a bad sign (like you know this book could suck some donkey dicks)

oh yea ive heard of it, but only when ive made the mistake of reading reviews from people who support this fucknut oganization called racebending (any body who is a fan of avatar, you know what im talking about). but it wasnt untill i got the book out of some morbid curiosity that i really found out. yep, this novel was made for them. the people who want to make the white boys SUFFER for what they did. sorry but not even a good cover plus steampunk elements can save this shitty excuse for a 'multicultural' fantasy book. you want 'multicultural', read steven erikson's awesome mallazan book of the fallen. dozens of poc charactors and all are likly to die the same as the white boys. plus its refreashing to see a fantasy world where RACE ISNT UP IN FOREFRONT OF EVERYTHING *cough the gasLAME dogs cough* not even gender roles matter in that world, so you get a lot of female soldiers.

in short: as a black person and an aspiring SSF writer, im not looking for charactors who look 'exactly like me' cause thats like saying 'oh well all black people look alike'. if the story is good, the charactors are great and the dialouge, writng style and etc is excellent, than our fucking read it and enjoy it. and if im going to put poc charactors in my work, than i will in my own time. not because there are people wanting it. selling it to a publisher? ill most likly pick TOR, PYR or ORBIT, not some poc company with a big-ass sign on their front door saying WHITE AUTHORS NEED NOT APPLY. IS THAT FAIR? ITS LIKE THAT FUCKING RACEBENDING THING AND THEIR BACKWARDS-ASS ATTEMPTS TO APPEAL TO ALL PEOPLE. ITS JUST FUCKING NUTS!!!!!!!! but please, do take that into consideration. any replys will be appreciated.