BOOK REVIEW: AN OATH OF DOGS, BY WENDY N. WAGNER (2017)

It’s the twenty-third century, and Standish has found a new career in a new town. The new town is a moon, Huginn, and the new career consists of working as head of communScreen Shot 2017-06-04 at 09.59.07ication for a huge intergalactic corporation. Standish’s predecessor, Duncan Chambers, was murdered. Who killed him, and why? Could it have anything to do with the 100-year-old diary Standish found hidden in his house, detailing the tribulations of Huginn’s first colonists? And what about Chambers’ former lover, Peter Bajowski, a biologist who many believe has ties to local eco-terrorists? In order to answer these questions, Standish will have to contend with a toxic work environment, roving packs of telepathic dogs, and space Mennonites.

The pacing is perfect–particularly impressive given the book’s 400+ pages–and the threat level is consistently adequate–never so low you lose interest, never so high you have to make yourself stop reading for fear of what may happen next. The world-building, too, is excellently balanced. Between the space Mennonites (or, more accurately Believers of the Word Made Flesh), telepathic dogs, and Huginn’s weird flora and fauna, the book could have been cloyingly outlandish. Instead, I loved learning more and more about how all these different aspects of the moon’s nature and culture fit together–each excerpt from the 100-year-old diary was a treat, each biology-heavy Bajowski chapter a gift.

The characters are a nice bunch, and the two main pov characters, in particular, differ from your usual thriller protagonists: Standish herself is a no-nonsense woman with an anxiety disorder, hopelessly devoted to her big white therapy dog, Hattie, and Peter Bajowski is a bisexual Latino man, meek and nerdy but passionate about nature and doing the right thing. The supporting cast is also quite diverse, including a trans woman named Dewey. Of course, as a cis straight-ish white man, it’s entirely possible I didn’t pick up on problematic aspects in the way some of these characters were represented, but, for what it’s worth, I couldn’t detect any glaring tropes or stereotypes, and the words the author uses to talk about Standish’s mental health felt like the right calibre of authentic and sympathetic. As–less seriously–did Standish’s love for her dog, which, even as a crazy cat man, I found terribly endearing, and probably the main thing I’ll take away from this book.

My main problem with the story is that some threads are left hanging at the end. Normally I don’t mind this sort of thing–I like discussing ambiguous endings with other people, and/or using my imagination and deduction skills to figure out my own explanations for the things the author left unsaid. Here, though, I found the persisting mysteries frustrating. Perhaps this is because the plot is otherwise crystal-clear, or because half the book reflects the perspective of a scientist–two things that led me to expect a satisfying explanation to everything, not just some things. Ultimately, though, this may be down to personal preference–I’d imagine many readers would be perfectly happy with the explained-to-unexplained ratio.

Overall, An Oath of Dogs is a good, solid sci-fi thriller, set in an interesting world and peopled with sympathetic characters. It probably won’t blow your mind, but, should you choose to read it, it’ll be a charming companion for the ensuing two or three days of your life.

(I was given a free copy of this book by the publisher via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. An Oath of Dogs will be out on the 4th of July, 2017.)

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