Black Dog by Rachel Neumeier

Black Dog - Rachel Neumeier
Natividad and her brothers Miguel and Alejandro are heading to the Dimilioc, the last clan of civilised Black Wolves (werewolves) left in the country after the devastating war against the vampires. The Dimilioc represent their only safety against their parents’ murderers.
But the Dimilioc have no reason to trust and accept them – and the war has hurt them as well. Only Natividad being one of the rare and magical Pure, highly valued among the Black Dogs, gives them a chance to hold on to. But that very value attracts a lot of attention – not least of which from the Dimilioc’s executioner
Even if they are willing to help, will the diminished clan have the power to stand up against the sinister forces that hunt the siblings?
The world presented is fascinating and presented in a way that is almost frustrating at the rate of reveal. This is another author who has learned to include the world building organically throughout the story without relying on too many clumsy info dumps. This means in the beginning it’s actually really frustrating because so much is alluded to: the vampire war, the end of which has exposed the supernatural to humans, the different werewolf clans, the difference between a Black Dog and bitten werewolves, the Pure with magic like Natividad, the history of Dimilioc – there’s so much that it feels a little lost. You have to hang in past these first confusing moments

As the story develops the world all fits together excellently presenting a really rich and broad world with some truly unique elements – both entirely unique and different takes on old concepts. The way werewolves and Pure are related, the nature of their magics and the source of the supernatural is a fascinating background for the world - and there’s also more immediate pressures creating conflict – the decimation of Dimilioc numbers and the decision over whether to recruit to increase those numbers but risk changing the inherent nature of the Dimilioc clan makes for a conflict that isn’t so much a side plot as an element that permeates the whole story
The story itself is an epic one, huge battles, survival and epic upheaval very much in the balance. We have a lot of cunning plans, everything fits well with the world and our characters are involved heavily in it all. We have a mystery that was actually mysterious and completely beyond guessing with an excellent twist ending. If I have one criticism it’s that the fight scenes didn’t flow and participants often felt like observers.
One thing I do like is the way this book managed to present werewolf aggression. The whole dominant/aggressive werewolf is a trope – the werewolf growls and everyone has to cower to appears its beast. So it is with Miguel and Natividad towards their brother, Alejandro and indeed to any of the Dimilioc. But at the same time it is constantly made clear that the submission is a shame, even Alejandro is aware that his siblings aren’t submitting to him, they’re play acting to placate his Black Dog shadow. It’s also very universal – there isn’t one alpha love interest with these instincts everyone has to cower before, every Black Dog has these issues. In fact, the obvious love interest is probably the one with the least dominance issues – so the trope is touched by in an entirely different way
I didn’t always agree with all of Natividad’s decisions. I think she ran off on her own without telling anyone far too often. I think she made decisions she should have really consulted others about. I think, considering the volatile position she was in and how little she was sure she could trust the Dimilioc that she put herself and her brothers at considerable risk making these decisions. I also think that her rash actions bordered on open insult to the Dimilioc which seems beyond ridiculous given the circumstances.
However, I have to hesitate before condemning this as Spunky Agency, though I have to say I’m tempted. Each time Natividad is moved to act, she has a strong motive (helping others) and a determination not to be put up on a shelf to be preserved and protected like a delicate, precious but helpless object. She is a firm believer in her own strength and that she has a duty to use that strength to protect those who do not have her power. It also helps a lot that everything she decides to do is actually possible – she doesn’t set off on epicly impossible quests all on her lonesome, it is reasonable of her to expect success (albeit at some risk) in her endeavours