K. V. Johansen’s epic fantasy novel, Blackdog, promised an epic story, masterfully woven plots and adventure throughout the 500+ page book.
Sadly, it failed to live up to expectations.
The novel begins with the goddess Attalissa, in her recently reincarnated human form (a young child), about the partake in a ceremony when the citadel built in her honor (and where she lives) is attacked. Her protector, a legendary creature called the Blackdog, urges her to leave with him after he scents the familiar stench of a magician. Attalissa reluctantly flees with the Blackdog, who is severely wounded in their escape and he shifts to his full-dog form — which is an excellent premise but the author doesn’t show or even tell you when the change really occurs — to protect the young goddess. He drags them into town where, with his dying breath, passes on the spirit of the Blackdog to a young trader who is fleeing the town’s destruction.
The man is nearly driven mad as he flees with Attalissa into the desert, leaving the water (Attalissa’s source of power) behind. The young trader, Holla-Sayan, struggles to adapt his new inner beast with his old job as a trader and merchant. However, the tension ratchets up as he flees with his caravan and the young goddess further and further away from the site of the citadel’s massacre. The beginning is filled with promise, a beautiful picture and the setting for one hell of a story.
…three hundred pages of nothing later…
I love a good story, but the author beat me over the head (repeatedly) with her world building and settings. She would build up an action sequence, get you nice and primed for something that belongs in a Mack Bolan novel, then promptly glosses over the actual action and suddenly the picturesque mountains were there once more. Beautiful mountains, people talking and… nothing.
It’s like I was reading a fantasy version of Sense and Sensibility — you know, those famous novels where 19th century British people sat around, drank tea and talked? Written by somebody my English professors swore was a brilliant author? Was lauded for its excellence, and yet every single average person not an English major who tried to read it instantly fell asleep?
I really wanted to like this book, because (outside of breaking two of my three Fantasy writing rules) it was everything I wanted. There were gods walking the lands, there were interesting characters running about, decent plot hooks and a compelling villain. But… nothing happens.
I could see what the author was trying to do in this book and, quite frankly, could have pulled it off with some judicious edits (primarily, about 1/3 of the book). The characterization (when I knew who we were reading about) was fairly decent, and the story line (which I loved) could have worked better had there been less chatting and scene painting and more “Getting this show on the road”. I understand that it’s hard to cram 15+ years into a 500 page book, but there could have been more scenes with the young goddess finding her powers and less tea (metaphorically, of course).
This novel misses despite the beautiful tapestry it paints. I’d say “borrow” it, to be generous, but this was a novel I had no problems putting down when anything else (Netflix, video games, my cat) came over to distract me. And while I am easily distracted at times, if a book is good nothing in this world can pull me from it. Sadly, Blackdog didn’t hold my attention.
—Reviewed by Jason