What attracted me to The Dog of the North was the alluring front cover. Categorised as fantasy, what was Darth Vader doing on the top of the front cover and with a sword in his hand rather than a light sabre? The burning battle beneath the front cover title (depicting the fall of Croad, I suspect) sent me right back into a fantasy mindset, as did the trilogy (?) title Annals of Mondia – memories of J.R.R. Tolkein’s classic novels about Mordor gave me a warm glow from my late teens.
The back cover blurb was equally as intriguing, hinting at a novel that poses many questions and promises much, I just hoped the author (who was new to me) had not bitten off more than he could chew. The categorisation as Fiction threw me, whereas, inside the book, finding out the author was born on the Isle of Wight clinched it for me; I spent many happy childhood holidays on the Isle of Wight, so much so that I worked there for many years as an adult before work carried me to the South West and then on to the North and North West of Great Britain.
My confusion over the front cover was shortlived for there is no science fiction within the 467 pages and precious little fantasy, only references to thaumaturges (was Lord Thaume one?) and dominettos (fire/heat sources from the Unseen Dimensions). This is not a problem if you are a wide ranging reader, but if your bent is out and out fantasy you may be disappointed. (Personally, I was not).
The characterisation is okay. Mondia as fantasy lands go is adequate (nothing too fancy to detract from the story and nothing too simple to shatter the spell being weaved by the author). I was reminded of Olde England despite the Winter and Summer Courts of Mettingloom. What keeps the pages turning with an intensity is the whodunnit intrigue. Right to the last sixty pages I was kept guessing: Who is the Dog of the North, and What happens to Eilla? How is Beaurceron going to exact his revenge and why?
Yes, basically, this novel is about revenge. There is a sub-theme of power, how kings and queens and princes and princes, dukes and duchesses and lords and ladies abuse their positions. Again, this bolstered the picture in my mind of the Middle Ages, only the references to gallumphers (horses) and the religions of The Way of Harmony and The Way of the Wheels reminded me I was in another world.
I admire the cleverly crafted way the two stories about the worldly wise Beauceron and the naive Arren kept swapping, although, in the beginning, the changes of character whilst still being in Croad is all a bit confusing; however, by one hundred pages in there are sufficient cliffhangers for each of the two major characters to spur the reader on (all aspiring authors take note of the power of end of chapter hooks). Equally, the first chapter really draws the reader in to the world and encourages them to read on.
Upon finishing this story and review, I see the author has self published on the kindle other stories from the Annals of Mondia. I will certainly be downloading these to my kindle and seeing how they fare/stack up to this very readable and enjoyable offering. I just hope the time with the publishers Pan Macmillan and then Tor, with the editor Will Atkins, proved profitable and educational.