Black Dog: Hellhound Chronicles
by Caitlin Kittredge
Review by Wes Breazeale
Harper Voyager Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780062316912
Date: 28 October 2014 List Price $14.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
There seem to be two types of protagonists in urban fantasy. In one hand you have those who laugh and make snarky comments in the face of adversity and in the other you have those who brood and take things very seriously. Ava, the hero of Black Dog, falls firmly in the latter category.
And perhaps Ava has reason to be a bit glum. She's a hellhound, a condemned soul who's been offered the opportunity to put in 200 years as a servant to a reaper as a way to stay out of hell for the time being. She hunts down mortals who are trying to escape their own hellish destinies. As a hellhound, Ava is a normal human woman but, she can also assume the form of a rather large, ferocious, and clearly supernatural dog.
Her current assignment from her reaper -- amusingly named just "Gary" -- has her heading to Las Vegas to find a missing employee of Gary's larger operation. Her search lands her in the crosshairs of Leo, a necromancer with a personal interest in obtaining the source of a reaper's power -- his scythe. Based partly on Leo's coercion and partly on her resentment of being ordered around for the past century, Ava ultimately agrees to help get Gary's scythe for Leo. This decision has further repercussions, bringing her to the attention of Gary's boss, the demon Lilith.
From there, Black Dog moves at a brisk pace. Crisscrossing the country, Ava encounters zombies, lycanthropes, vampires, and additional demonic and angelic interference. All the while, Ava learns a bit more about her past, and has glimpses of what her future might hold.
As a character, Ava is not always likeable, but she is certainly sympathetic. Much of this is due to the circumstances that led to her being a hellhound in the first place, and it felt as the book progressed that she became a bit more relatable.
Throughout Black Dog, Kittredge touches on some of the larger aspects of the mythology she is developing for her Hellhound Chronicles, but she doesn't always delve into them too deeply. This leaves room for further exploration in future books, but also leaves some questions frustratingly unanswered in this one. The role of magic in Ava's world is very unclear, even though it seems to be an important aspect of several characters. Ava's full powers as a hellhound are also frustratingly under developed. Whether this was done by choice or by omission, it left me wanting more.
But Kittredge also leaves Ava in the dark on some of these questions, clearly setting things up for future books in the series. I found it a little frustrating at times, but only because I wanted to know more and I wanted to know now!
By the end of Black Dog I found myself reluctantly satisfied with what was revealed, and curious to find out more about Ava and her powers in forthcoming books. Black Dog is a great start to a series that has potential to be very enjoyable. If you are a fan of gritty urban fantasy, you'll want to add this to your reading list.