Grim Tidings: Hellhound Chronicles
by Caitlin Kittredge
Cover Artist: Dmytro Vietrov / Shutterstock (reaper);
Viorel Sima / Shutterstock (couple)
Review by Wes Breazeale
Harper Voyager Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780062316936
Date: 19 April 2016 List Price $14.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
When I was assigned Black Dog to review last year, the first book in Caitlin Kittredge's new Hellhound Chronicles, I was excited. I'm always looking for a new urban fantasy series to enjoy and was intrigued by the premise. And while I wasn't completely disappointed with it, I was far from completely satisfied. Fortunately that ambivalence doesn't apply to the second book in the series, Grim Tidings. It is a thoroughly satisfying and enjoyable book, and lends hope that this could be a well done and long term series.
Grim Tidings picks up shortly after the events of Black Dog, offering very little in the way of summary. Black Dog is pretty much required reading to have a chance of understanding any of what is going on.
Having survived a trip to Hell, Ava and her boyfriend Leo are back on Earth trying to decide what to do with themselves. Fighting the urge to simply ride off into the sunset, the opening chapters find them thrust back into the war between angels and the Fallen. In addition, a new type of undead creature has popped up in the Midwest, one that Ava it just so happens had run into during an unpleasant experience in Germany during World War II.
Kittredge does a very nice job of jumping back and forth between Ava's present and past stories, and it greatly improves the flow and depth of Grim Tidings as compared to Black Dog. The complexity of the plot, as well as Ava's character development, is quite rewarding. That's not to say that there still aren't some missed opportunities.
Though the focus stays firmly on Ava through the two intertwining stories, some things are still a wee bit confusing. Aspects of magic within Ava's world, particularly in regards to Leo and his powers as both a necromancer and now as the Grim Reaper, are still very unclear. Additionally, Ava's powers as a hellhound aren't fully fleshed out yet either. Besides being required by reapers to track down forfeit souls, do hellhounds gain any benefits from their new state of being?
As a hellhound, Ava possesses increased recuperative skills in her human form and the ability to shift into a fierce canine creature. But Kittredge has done very little to explain what advantages Ava gains beyond those two abilities. If there isn't anything else, reapers are relying on the rather pedestrian skills of whatever human soul they trick into working for them. It seems like there must be some aspect of hellhound-ness that has yet to be explored.
But that's merely a nitpicking complaint based on a desire for there to be more to this, because what there is so far has proven to be rather enjoyable. The Hellhound Chronicles are similar in scale and tone to Richard Kadrey's Sandman Slim books, perhaps with a little less snark and pop-culture references. Honing this material to an even sharper focus in subsequent books will most definitely give readers something to look forward to in years to come. Grim Tidings was a truly enjoyable read, and an affirmation of the potential Kittredge presented in Black Dog.