“My husband and I arrived in a city that I shall call not Woodsland, but, rather, Dogsland. That is the name for human places in the language of the wolf packs.”
Dogsland is the setting for J. M. McDermott’s Never Knew Another, the first book in the Dogsland Trilogy. In this novel, we follow two of Erin’s Walkers – half wolf, half human, all demon hunter. When they find the skull of a half demon child, they leave their woods to explore the city, following the memories left behind in the skull to chase down other demon children. The story is narrated from the first person viewpoint of one of these Walkers, whose name cannot be uttered in the human tongue. The memories she sees introduce us to Jona, the owner of the memories, and his lover Rachel, also a demon child.
Shades of gray
This two-sided nature of Never Knew Another, exploring both demons and demon hunters, erases all boundaries of right and wrong and takes readers on a dark journey filled with shades of gray. This is not an adventurous story of hunter and prey, but a tragic love story of two lonely and frightened people who know that when their true heritage is discovered, they will be burned alive for it. Neither has ever known another demon child, and when they meet, they are finally able to share who they are.
Dark, strange, and poetic, Never Knew Another can be typified as a fourteenth century urban fantasy. The style of writing is very different than anything I’ve read before. It is fast, sharp, creative, and almost philosophic at times. It’s as though McDermott planned every word carefully, creating a book that reads like a page-turner, not for its suspense, but for its weird rhythm and raw emotion, with hints of original magic.
A beautiful city
The city of Dogsland is beautifully crafted. The mud in the streets of the poor district, the stench of dead animals in the pens, and the shallow parties where the noble ladies try to impress each other feel as realistic as walking through a fourteenth century city filled with people with their own stories, fears and dreams. When I read about the rainstorms drenching everything, I felt as though I was sitting in the rain myself. When I read about the hot, stale, windowless rooms, the room around me felt hot. McDermott’s greatest skill is definitely his writing style that makes the world he created come to life for me.
Colliding timelines and stale plots
The characters in Never Knew Another will draw you in and carry you away. The conflicts they face every day and the struggles between doing what’s right and doing what is needed to survive a life as a demon are truly enthralling. At times, though, the number of viewpoints and the randomness of memories and intertwined timelines make this book a bit hard to read. For instance, during some paragraphs set in the past, a random thought from the present is thrown in unexpectedly.
However, the biggest problem I had with this novel was the lack of progress. This is without a doubt a brilliant book, but there aren’t enough events to carry it. Only near the end were a little mystery and political scheming thrown in the spice things up. For me, this came too late.
Why should you read this book?
Any fan of the genre might like McDermott’s novel. Whether you like Steampunk, Epic, Low or Urban Fantasy, or if you enjoy reading something weird and different, you will enjoy this. Never Knew Another is a wonderful story of emotions and conflicts set in an atmosphere that will blow you away. This novel had the potential to push the boundaries of the fantasy genre, becoming a fantasy and perhaps even literary classic, but though it is good, the lack of events and the mere 230 pages of the book aren’t sufficient to make this a classic. I hold high hopes for the sequels, though.