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King, A. S.: The Dust of 100 Dogs

The Dust of 100 Dogs (2009)
Author: A. S. King
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 320 (trade paperback)
Series: Stand Alone

In the late seventeenth century, famed teenage pirate Emer Morrisey was on the cusp of escaping the pirate life with her one true love and unfathomable riches when she was slain and cursed with "the dust of one hundred 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.

Why I Read It: I've been meaning to read this book since it was released back in 2009. I couldn't ignore the eye-catching cover, nor its unique premise. I never did get around to buying it, then the TBR grew and I put it off even longer. Finally, while I was visiting Toronto during my reading week at the end of February, I went to World's Biggest Book Store, found it in stock, said screw it and just bought it. I ran out of books to read while visiting Toronto so I started pulling books off of my pile that I had just bought at WBBS and decided to tackle this one (after I devoured Feeling Sorry For Celia) because I a) had been waiting so damn long to read it and b) it's relatively short.

One of the greatest things about A. S. King is that her books can't really be boxed into any one genre. With Please Ignore Vera Dietz, it was definitely contemporary fiction, but this line was blurred by the presence of first-person POVs from a dead person as well as a PAGODA of all things. In this novel, there is a similar blurring of the genre lines: it's definitely contemporary fiction in that Saffron has to deal with very real problems (not wanting to conform to your parents expectations), but this is under the film of the paranormal, as Saffron is actually the reincarnation of a young pirate named Emer. But before she even reincarnated as Saffron, she first had to live 100 lives as a dog. So what we end up with is a hodgepodge of contemporary fiction, historical fiction (Emer's chapters), and paranormal/fantasy elements.

So does King pull this all off? For the most part, I would say yes. I thought this novel was a lot of fun, and proved to be more than just a cool concept. The story is told in alternating chapters between Emer and Saffron (Saffron's being first-person present tense, Emer's being third-person past tense, which not only helped to distinguish between the two, but also just made a lot of sense), as well as having some chapters told from the eyes of a weird pervert living in Jamaica (who's inclusion in the story becomes clear by the end of the story).

I was largely more interested in Emer's chapters, but that's because a lot more happens in her story. We watch her go from being a young girl living a normal and happy life, to suffering at the hands of her uncle, to escaping and making a life for herself as a pirate. Lots of exciting stuff going on there. Emer's story on the other hand was much more internal, as she relays to us how she struggles living in a family she doesn't even feel like she belongs in (because of the whole reincarnation stuff -- and because they're assholes). We also watch her as she escapes to Jamaica to find her buried treasure. Saffron's story is still compelling because she does live in very curious and unique circumstances, and I liked how King blended in these contemporary elements in to a story that is in so many ways not contemporary (similarly to how Leanne Hall this off in This is Shyness).

While we're talking about the story, I do want to point out (without being spoilery) that the ended really did catch me by surprise. I caught on before the big reveal, but only JUST before and I loved loved loved how that played out.

The novel isn't without its flaws though. Because there's so much going on, I felt some aspects of the story were underdeveloped. The most prominent of these was the romance between Emer and Seanie. We only get glimpses of them falling in love as young teenagers and then they're separated for a huge chunk of the novel and only reunited near the end. This did lend a lot of bitterness to Emer's demise though. I really was bummed out by it, especially since she had JUST been reunited with Seanie, but this was really dulled due to the fact that I wasn't totally invested in their undying love for one another. The romance WAS necessary to the plot in many ways, so I really wish that I could have been better developed and allowed me to really get to know the two together as a couple.

Another little issue I had was how willing so many men were in letting Emer be their captain and order them about. I understand that she was a strong-willed women and clearly had no trouble killing and plundering ships and doing all things piratey, but there is no way in hell that men would have followed orders from a young woman in that day and age. This requires a suspension that I wasn't always able to maintain and did damper my reading a wee bit.

Final Verdict: A. S. King is clearly skillful when it comes to writing stories that defy genre conventions and The Dust of 100 Dogs is indicative of that. This is story that is very clearly contemporary in many ways, historical fiction in others, with a sprinkling of fantasy/paranormal for good measure, and King somehow makes this hodgepodge work. It's a fun story in many ways, but there's a sadness that clearly permeates it as well. I do wish that the romantic aspect of the story had been better developed, and there was a suspension of disbelief required for some parts as well, but overall? I enjoyed this novel quite a bit.

Cover Commentary: I love this cover. I love the white, red and black colour scheme and the simplicity of the silhouettes. Very eye-catching. The cover is really what made me want to read the book in the first place too, which is obviously a good thing, even if you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. ;P

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