Terrouge E-zine Archives
Review: Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis
By: Geo Holms
You have to admit, there is a certain draw to a tale that revolves around a group of dogs that walk on their hind legs, talk with electronic voice boxes, and wear clothes from 19th century Prussia. I would be lying to you if I said that wasn't the reason I bought this book. It's an intriguing premise, and the cover featured a cool picture of a husky.
The tale is set in New York City in the early 21st Century, and follows Cleo, a college student of hazy degree, who is intrigued by the appearance of a group of a hundred and fifty 'monster dogs' in the city. As fate would have it, she runs into one of these 'monster dogs' on the street - a black German Shepherd by the name of Ludwig von Sacher - and is soon drawn into the elegant and strange world of his race...sort of.
The first part of the novel is told largely through the journal entries of Ludwig, as he delves into the dark history of the "monster dogs" and seeks to unlock the nature of their creator, a figure who can only be described as a sort of Dr. Frankenstein mad-scientist type, obsessed with making a new race of soldiers who will be determined, fiercely loyal, and smart.
These journal entries, along with Ludwig's more personal ruminations, alternate with Cleo’s part of the tale, which starts with the unheralded arrival of the monster dogs in New York City, apparently after being found in the countryside. Cleo’s account covers her acquaintance with Ludwig and some of the other monster dogs to whom he introduces her, and her observations of their actions and nature.
She does not directly observe the rise of the monster dogs into Manhattan's high society; they seem to have access to a great fortune at their paws, or hands rather (for they actually have robotic, prosthetic limbs surgically added to their forepaws), and she comes into their story a year after their arrival, as the strangeness has worn off and the public curiosity has faded into a lull (which would make sense for New Yorkers). As she gets to know Ludwig, Cleo is drawn deeper into the society of the monster dogs. Or so it seems. She is soon recruited by Klaue, the charismatic Malamute and spokesperson (spokesdog?) for the monster dogs residing in the city, and he sets her the task of writing articles about his kind, to raise public opinion and awareness about the dogs - articles which will, of course, all be vetted and approved by Klaue himself before their release.
Lives of the Monster Dogs is mostly told through Ludwig’s writings, which continue to dig at the mysteries of his own species' short history, and Cloe’s account of the unfolding events after she is brought into the dogs' sphere of influence. However, the novel also uses letters and news articles to flesh out the story, and for one chapter even resorts to an opera libretto to depict a major event in the monster dogs' past. Being a lover of different point of views, I found this to be a nice touch. The characters are well realized for the most part, as is the dialogue, which mostly comes across as casual conversation until you remember again that these are literally dogs. Lydia, a Samoyed, is a charming and steady figure, and Klaue plays the part of antagonist well enough that you could almost see the hackles raised. The different narratives draw the reader towards a strange and tragic turn of events lurking in the dogs' immediate future.
There is something that should be noted, however: when Cleo is hired by Klaue, the tale presents the promise that this human female will be granted an unparalleled look into the mysterious meetings of the monster dogs, uncover some secrets, poke into their minds and figure out how they tick. This promise is not met. And this is ultimately the main flaw of Lives of the Monster Dogs: no matter the infinite possibilies the novel opens up, it shuts the door on itself from actually expanding on those possibilities. The tale introduces numerous subplots of intriguing content, from the madness of the creator, to the true natures of the monster dogs and their secret society and traditions, to the construction of a Prussian castle on Manhattan's Lower East Side. The story stops a little short in each of these situations, like the author didn’t want to risk pursuing them further. The novel weaves a mysterious atmosphere and creates a gothic horror setting, drawing the reader into the dark surreal fog that soon encloses the narrative, and it has wonderful potential to be a great story, but it only seems to strive to be a good story instead. A normal, good, original story. Everything, including the plot, is good, but though it has such capability to do so, it does not achieve greatness. This especially shows near the end, when the author seems to be striving for a deep and almost philosophical resolution, some elusive main point that never quite solidifies and leaves the reader a little miffed at what exactly this revelation is supposed to be.
Lives of the Monster Dogs is a cool book, so cool that I think it will give you a nice little chill down your back in the warmth of summer with its gothic theme and generally creepy tone. Monster Dogs is a good novel, the author’s first, and she does a good show with a lofty premise that doesn’t leave the reader disappointed.
And for Pete’s sake, it has Monster Dogs in the title. Why wouldn’t you give it a shot?
Although I’m still wondering how a dog in the book was eating grapes.