Black Dog Short Stories and Pure Magic by Rachel Neumeier
Reviewed by Stephanie Burgis
ISBNs: 9781908844842 (Black Dog Short Stories Ebook), 9781513038827 (Pure Magic Ebook)
Anara Publishing — 138 and 323 pages, respectively
When Rachel Neumeier’s Black Dog was first published in 2014, it was the most interesting and original werewolf book that I’d read in a long time. In multiple re-reads since then, it’s become one of my favorite werewolf novels of all time. So I found it particularly disappointing when Angry Robot Books closed down the imprint that had published it, Strange Chemistry, and it looked like readers might not get a sequel after all.
Luckily, Neumeier decided to publish the sequel herself, along with a collection of tie-in short stories. Black Dog Short Stories is a collection of pieces featuring the characters of Black Dog, and it’s utterly charming and fun. I wouldn’t recommend it as an entryway for new readers to her series, simply because there is so little information given at the beginning to set up the characters and their situation. Neumeier takes it for granted that readers will already understand the setup and recognize all the characters, which, of course, new readers can’t do. But if you have already read and loved Black Dog, this entire book will read like a literary box of chocolates, every one of them sweet and delicious. The books in this series are emotional and intense, but these short stories include lighthearted and funny adventures like “Christmas Shopping” as well as darker, more heart-wrenching pieces like “A Learning Experience.” The final story even provides startling insights into the backstory of one of the more enigmatic characters in Black Dog. Fans of the series won’t want to miss it.
Better yet, even new readers can easily start the series with the second book, Pure Magic. While Black Dog alternated between the viewpoints of fifteen-year-old Natividad and her two brothers, this book introduces a brand-new character, Justin, an older teenager who only learns about the hidden world of the Black Dogs after being attacked by vicious “strays” in the first chapter. In this version of contemporary America, there are two different types of werewolves: the lawless Strays and the Black Dogs who live under the law of Dimilioc. Both of them are irresistibly drawn to the Pure, witches who have the ability to tame Black Dogs’ demonic rage. Strays are drawn to murder any of the Pure whom they discover; Dimilioc is sworn to protect them; and Justin, unbeknownst to himself, is the first Pure boy that anyone has ever heard of, with a natural ability for magic that he’s never known about.
When the Black Dogs of Dimilioc rescue Justin from the Strays’ attack, they insist on taking him back with them to their remote home for his own protection, despite all of his furious protests. Raised by a Pure mother who kept him safe but never shared any of her secrets with him before her death, Justin is horrified by the sudden discovery of his own talents and new limitations, as they turn his world upside-down. Natividad and her brothers saw Dimilioc as a safe haven in Black Dog, but in Pure Magic, Justin fights against it as a prison, no matter how well-meaning the Master of Dimilioc might be. While Natividad took the strict rules of Black Dog society for granted, Justin is horrified by them – and by the discovery that, for the Black Dogs of Dimilioc, the most prized mate possible is one of the Pure. There is only one mature female Black Dog at Dimilioc, the fierce and prickly Keziah, and she and Justin are equally resistant to the idea of being pressured into mating…even as they are reluctantly attracted to each other.
But even as Justin and Keziah circle warily around each other, and Natividad negotiates her own careful romance with another Black Dog, far darker things are happening in the world around them. The Black Dogs of Dimilioc were terribly depleted by their recent war with the Blood Kin. They may have defeated the vampires, but it was a Pyrrhic victory. Now, the Master of Dimilioc is struggling desperately to maintain safety and stability in the region, his power spread thin with only a few mature Black Dogs left under his command. Not only are there vicious strays whose violence must be controlled for the sake of the Pure and the ordinary humans, but murderous new interlopers are flooding in now, at his moment of weakness, to challenge him for territory. Sweet Natividad’s own Pure magic is also beginning to show disturbing, dark taints…and even worse, there are growing hints that the Blood Kin may not have been entirely defeated after all.
As half the Black Dogs are drawn into a desperate battle on the East Coast, Natividad and Justin find themselves trapped on another side of the country with only two Black Dogs to help them against a power terrifying enough to require a whole army. If they are to survive, Natividad will have to risk her soul with her rapidly darkening magic, and Justin will have to embrace his true nature, no matter how dangerous that might be.
Pure Magic mixes warmth, humor, and romance with some of the most effectively chilling scenes I’ve ever read, along with an inexorable sense of rising tension that becomes absolutely stomach-clenching by the end of the book. It’s a perfect followup to Black Dog, but it would also stand securely on its own for any new readers to the series. While it wraps up all of its most important threads with a satisfying sense of closure, I am not-so-secretly hoping that Neumeier will decide to write more and more books set in this world. Highly recommended.