The Dust of 100 Dogs by A.S. King

the dust of 100 dogs by as king Publication year: 2009
Genre: Fantasy
Time and place: seventeenth century Ireland and Jamaica / US & Jamaica in the 90s
Narrated in: first-person/third-person limited/third-person omniscient
First sentence:Imagine my surprise when, after three centuries of fighting with siblings over a spare furry teat and licking my water from a bowl, I was given a huge human nipple, all to myself, filled with warm mother’s milk.
Verdict: Liked it for the most part.

If I have no option to be happy and good, then why not be as bad as I can be?

The day she turned fourteen Emer Morrisey was sent by her uncle far away from her native Ireland. She had been sold to be a wife to a much older man, in Paris. Luckily for her, once she got there she managed to run away from her husband-to-be. After living for a year on the streets, she boarded a ship to Tortuga, hoping for a better life. She was wrong; she sailed again. The ship she was on was attacked, and she fought valiantly. And this was the turning point, the moment that set her on the path of becoming nothing less than a pirate captain.

Years later, having attained everything she wanted, she was planning to retire and start a normal life. She never made it though: not only she was killed right on the beach where she first landed, but she was also cursed to spend 100 lives reincarnated as a dog. And so she was reborn as a French poodle puppy…

Fast forward to the twentieth century. It’s the 70s, and, having finished her due, Emer reincarnates again, this time as a human girl. Now Saffron, she amazes everyone with her knowledge of past events. Everyone thinks she will have a wonderful career in any field she’ll choose. But Emer has a plan and one plan only: once she will turn eighteen she will go to the beach where she died and dig up the immense treasured she has buried there.

General impression
Well, the book was a tad more violent than I would have expected (the former Emer relishes imagining various gory ways to maim the ones she find annoying; which is basically everyone she talks to). I get that Emer had lived a violent life in violent times; I get that after being around for three hundred years she has very little patience with the people around her. And yet this part seemed to me a bit overdone.

The story is told in alternating chapters, some telling the story of Emer’s life and others narrated by Saffron. There are some pages dedicated to a third character, Fred, the modern-day owner of a house on the beach Emer is interested in; there are also small stories, now and then, about some of Emer’s lives as a dog, complete with lessons learned. Each of these has a different point of view, yet they manage to come together as a whole quite nicely. I wasn’t too fond of the contemporary bits, mostly because I didn’t much like the characters involved; Emer’s original life however kept me on the edge of my seat more than once.

I was sad to see that Saffron doesn’t really suffer any effects after having spent so many years as a dog. It would have been interesting/quirky to see her having trouble adapting to being a human again (after all, she has been a human for less than 50 years, and a dog for six times that). She has some memories left, of course, but it would have been interesting to see more of a “cultural shock”, if you will. If anything, modern day Emer, although she has now lived such a long time, feels even more immature than she ever felt before, and I didn’t enjoy that.

The story of Emer begins when she is five, a happy child in the middle of a happy family. By her sixth birthday she loses everything, as her village is destroyed and its people killed by Cromwell’s army. Emer has to go live with her uncle’s family, in a very poor area. The uncle is aggressive and beats everyone; the cousins aren’t particularly friendly either. Emer’s new life is anything but happy. And it’s not going to get much better for a long, long while. Under these circumstances I have to say I was quite fond of Emer, and the way she grit her teeth and powered through the adversities that life threw at her. I liked that she had a fiery personality and she wasn’t afraid to fight for what she wanted. Sure, she does enjoy killing people a bit too much for my taste (her signature move was tearing people’s eyes out of their sockets), but I do get that this can (sort of) be put down to the fact that almost everyone in her life has treated her bad.

Emer reincarnated however is nowhere near as interesting. Perhaps because her appeal consisted in her piratey ways, and of course she can no longer act as a pirate in the 20th century. She’s just… bland. Sure, she knows a lot, due to her having witnessed a lot of history first hand, and she has that quirk of maiming people in her mind; other than that however there is not much that can be said about her. The fifth child, she isn’t particularly close to anyone in her family, despite the fact that her parents were pretty okay people throughout her childhood. I sort of resented that about her — the way she thought of everyone, her parents included, as being her inferiors (now it is true that they weren’t particularly bright people, but up to a point they were doing their best, and I was sorry to see that Saffron/Emer did not appreciate their efforts).

Another character is the guy owning the house on the beach, Fred Livingstone. Kudos to the author, as she has managed to create the creepiest and most unlikable character I have ever read about until now. Even as I write this, a day or so after I finished the book, thinking about him makes me shiver a bit. It’s not just the way he treats his (good natured, albeit not very bright) dog, although just this and made me despise him and dislike him on the spot. It’s in the way he thinks about women around him. Ew. And to think that people like that do in fact exist.

The rest of the cast consisted mostly of placeholders, unidimensional people that play a single role and have no complexity at all. Take Seanie for example, the only man Emer has ever loved. He was just there. He has no trait of his own other than the fact that he loves Emer and is loved by her. The same goes for David, Emer’s first mate. He’s there to take care of all the jobs Emer, as a female, cannot do, and in the process he of course falls in love with her (since she is so very beautiful and courageous and one of a kind). And that’s all there is to him. When Seanie comes back and there’s no more need for David, the latter disappears without a trace. Emer’s uncle was abusive and treated her bad, to provide for a challenge in her early life. Saffron’s parents become addicted to pills, to provide for a challenge in her new life. And so on, most of the characters being there as plot devices and nothing more.

A detail that I liked
Emer’s first ship was called Emerald :)

Something I did not understand
If Saffron is Emer reincarnated, how come that as she arrives in Jamaica she complains about losing Emer?

Thoughts on the ending
The ending was the part that sort of ruined the whole book for me. I liked it that it was a nice, happy ending, but I thought that its plausibility left something to be desired.
show spoiler

Recommend it to?
People who enjoy YA books and are not afraid of some gore. There isn’t anything too graphic but it’s not overly tame either.

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