Title: The Dust of 100 Dogs
Author: A. S. King
Genre: YA (and a mish-mash of Romance! Pirates! History! Reincarnation!)
Publishing Date: January 2009
Paperback: 336 pages
Stand alone or series: Stand Alone
Why did I read the book: The premise sounded awesome and different; the cover and title are amazing; and it generated some positive reviews.
How did I get the book: I bought it.
Summary: In the late 17th century, famed pirate Emer Morrisey was on the cusp of escaping pirate life with her one true love and unfathomable riches when she was slain and cursed with the dust of 100 dogs, dooming her to one hundred lives as a dog before returning to a human body—with her memories intact. Now she’s a contemporary American teenager, and all she needs is a shovel and a ride to Jamaica.
Review: Warning: this review contains spoilers as I don’t think I can address the issues I had with the book without them.
For a brief period time that went from the amazing prologue and lasted for about 100 pages, I thought I was reading a truly spectacular book:
It opens in the 17th century, with a pirate, Emer Morrisey, who is about to kill (and remove the right eyeball of) the Frenchman who has just murdered Seanie, the man Emer loved – just when they were about to end their life of piracy. There is a treasure buried nearby but Emer only cares about the end of her dreams. She did not know that she was about to be killed and cursed by the Frenchman’s lover to live one hundred lives as a dog, before she is able to inhabit a human body again.
Cue more than 300 years later and Emer is reborn as Saffron Adams, a member of a poor family with a mother who has a sad past of poverty and misery in Ireland; a deadbeat father; brother and sister long gone and a younger brother who is a drug addict. Saffron, who carries the last 300 years of memories intact, was incapable to keep her memories and knowledge a secret when she was little which end up making her the girl genius of the family and the one to carry their hopes for a better life. But Saffron, cares NOTHING about it, about this family’s wishes and all she wants is to turn 18 so that she can go away to Tortuga and get her treasure back.
The story alternates between present (Saffron’s narration in first person) and past (Emer’s life, in third person), between Saffron’s struggle to get by and her impatience at her family’s heavy expectations about her and Emer’s horrible, tragic life. Needless to say, the more interesting one is Emer: from her childhood in a small village in Ireland at the time of Cromwell’s invasion when her parents and brother were killed in front of her eyes to being rescued by an uncle who was a bully and who hated her. From meeting her childhood sweetheart – Seanie – and losing him when her uncle sold her to an old French man in marriage to escaping this fate, from living in the streets of Paris to boarding a ship to Tortuga where she is greeted by the Frenchman of the prologue and raped; to eventually turning to a life of infamous piracy complete with a signature move and everything (that would be the eyeball removing alluded to in the prologue). And this is only the beginning.
The Dust of 100 Dogs is a gritty and tragic tale of one girl who is an honest-to-God pirate who kills and maims and steals. The author doesn’t pull any punches and provides much food for thought about the theme of reincarnation. The line between Saffron and Emer is a very thin one, sometimes if actually felt nonexistent, and the issue of “memory” and how much would that influence one’s attempt of a new life is one that kept me thinking for hours after reading the novel.
Thus, the premise is undeniably original and also, extremely ambitious. There is an epic feel to the story but unfortunately that amount of “Epic” cannot possibly fit within the 300 pages of this book. My feeling is that the author tried to embrace the world with very short arms and the execution proved to be also epic as in an epic mess of titanic proportions.
Because, on top of Saffron and Emer’s point of views, we also get others as the author jumped heads: there was a dog, and also sometimes Seanie, and then David (Emer’s First mate) and several chapters from the point of view of a very crazy character, one Fred Livingstone. Plus, interludes with Dogs Facts that present lessons that Emer (or Saffron?) learnt living as a dog, and although most of these lessons are in theory quite interesting and could be applied to humans (which I think was the point of the dog facts) I hardly ever saw Saffron/Emer actually applying those to her life.
And that brings me to another HUGE problem I had with the book; let’s call it the two “M”’s: characters’ Motivations and the exact Mechanics of certain events. For example, the evil uncle. He hated Emer. Why? He was obviously a coward and a bully who mistreated his children and his wife but he had a certain something else for Emer. Again, why? Why did he have to sell her in marriage (M # 1 = Motivation) but most importantly why did it have to be to a French guy? Why did a rich French had to buy a bride from the interior of a war-stricken Ireland? Surely he could find a (willing or unwilling) bride in France? Furthermore, how exactly did an illiterate, poor Irish man find a connection to a rich, French from across the channel? (M # 2= Mechanics). Why couldn’t he marry Emer off to someone close, in Ireland itself? Plot contrivance to separate Emer and Seanie?
Similarly Frenchman number 2, the one in Tortuga, fell in love/obsession with Emer at first sight and spent his life searching for her after she escapes. He then finds her when she is arrested for piracy because he wants to marry her but he needs to teach her a lesson first and leaves her to rot – literally rot (she loses two toes to gangrene) – in prison for ONE YEAR. WHY? Then when he comes for her (what kept him away for so long? I don’t know) he is surprised that she does not look good. Really? What is the point of the entire sting in prison? Another unnecessary plot contrivance to add another layer of “tragic” to Emer’s life?
Finally, there are Saffron’s motivations. I never really got the feeling that Saffron was someone new. She was always “Emer” to me. Quite possibly because every single interaction with her parents were punctuated with her imagining she was hitting, maiming, torturing these people whom she thought were pathetic losers she needed to get away from. There is not a shred of sympathy for her parents even though her mother has had a very similar life to her own in Ireland. Which is ok, if you think that this is pirate EMER. Then close to the ending, when she finds out that her brother sold all of her stuff, and she feels bad and she muses about yearbooks, pictures, books, jewellery with sadness. Then she says she is surprised she didn’t care more – but when did she ever??? I was told that but I was never ever showed that. Never once did I feel that Saffron cared about her life as Saffron…which in turn ended up making me not to care about either.
Plus, I feel the book needed some heavy editing. The beginning, where we read about Emer’s childhood is very richly detailed and quite interesting and it lasts and it lasts, page after page, after page. The ending, the eventual confluence of all the storylines, past and present coming together, the explanation of who Fred Livingstone is, Emer and Saffron uniting, the return of Seanie? Two/three pages, not nearly enough as resolution. I am not even going to mention problems I had with certain parts of dialogue or the preachy nature of Saffron’s thoughts about her brother’s drug addition, as I think it is enough already.
I ended up, unfortunately, very disappointed with The Dust of 100 Dogs. There were quite a few things I really did enjoy about the story but sometimes it is not enough to have a damn good idea, you also have to know what to do with it.
Notable Quotes/ Parts: The Amazing Prologue:
Prologue – The Dust of One Hundred Dogs
With one last, almighty roar, the Frenchman fell to his knees and died. When the smoke cleared, Emer kicked him to make sure he was dead. Bent on one knee in the moonlight, holding his head with her left hand, she took a marlinspike and removed his right eyeball with relative ease. She rolled it in the sand next to his head and shoved the spike deep into his empty socket.
Placing her pistol gently into her waistband, she looked toward the sea.
“I curse you!” she screamed at the dark water. “I curse you for all you gave me and for all you pilfered! I curse you for the journeys you begin and the journeys you end! I curse you until I can’t hate you anymore! And I scarcely think I will ever hate you more than on this wretched day!” Her fair hair stuck to her face, wet with sorrow and surf, and her hand-embroidered cotton blouse clung to her, stained with her lover’s blood.
Turning again to the two dead bodies, she retrieved the shovel from underneath Seanie—Seanie, her first and only love. She limped back to the clearing. Looking around to make sure no one was watching, she sat down on the edge of the hole and talked to herself.
“There was only one reason to stop all of this poxy business.” She turned and looked at the distant dead. “What worth is a precious jewel now? Damn it! In all these years, over all this water! And I end up a fool with a lap full of precious nothing.”
She dragged the two crates into the hole and began to cover them quickly, concerned that the Frenchman’s reinforcements would arrive at any minute. She buried the shovel last, on top, and used her hands to fill the remaining depression, covering the sand with sticks and dead leaves.
Returning to the scene of the dead men, she lay down beside Seanie, placed her head on his chest and sobbed.
“It’s like two different lives in the same bloody day.”
Through her sobs, Emer heard footsteps. A voice boomed from the darkness, making her jump. She scrambled to her feet and reloaded her pistol.
“Foul bitch!” he began, in island-accented English. “You have meddled in my life for too many years! I’m sure you didn’t know every whore in these islands heard him scream your name a thousand times! And me, too! Now look at him! Dead!”
Emer saw the man emerging from the tree line, his hands hidden. She had seen him before, on Tortuga, and on board the Chester. It was the Frenchman’s first mate.
“You will see!” he yelled, jumping from the brush. “You will see how true love lasts! You will see how real love spans time and distance we know nothing of!”
He rushed forward, then, shaking a small purse toward her. From it came a fine powder that covered Emer’s hair and face. She reached up and wiped her eyes clear, confused.
“What are you at?” she asked, spitting dust from her lips.
He stood with his arms and face raised to the night sky. “I curse you with the power of every spirit who ever knew love!” he screamed. “I curse you to one hundred lives as the bitch you are, and hope wild dogs tear your heart into the state you’ve left mine!” He began chanting in a frightful foreign language.
Still brushing the dust from her hair, Emer took aim with her gun and fired.
As she watched the man fall, she felt a burning prod in her back and stumbled sideways—long enough to see that the Frenchman had miraculously not been all dead, and long enough to see that he was covered in stray pieces of the strange dust his first mate had thrown at her.
She tried to fall as near to Seanie as possible, and managed to get close enough to reach out and grab his cold hand. She took her dying breath lying halfway between her lover and her killer, covered in the dust of one hundred dogs, knowing she was the only person on the planet who knew what was buried beneath the chilly sand ten yards away.
Additional Thoughts: I REALLY like the book trailler for this one:
Verdict: The premise is amazing but the execution left a lot to be desired which I think could be explained by the author’s inexperience with novels (she has published short stories before that). There are very, very good ideas here and I would love to see what she writes next.This one though, is quite the mess.
Rating: 4 – Bad but not without some merit
Reading Next: The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson