Black Dog Short Stories: Events in the lives of key Black Dog characters

Black Dog Short Stories by Rachel NeumeierBlack Dog Short Stories by Rachel NeumeierBlack Dog Short Stories by Rachel Neumeier

This set of four short stories is an interlude in Rachel Neumeier’s BLACK DOG universe, where werewolves ― more properly known in this world as black dogs ― are adjusting to a world where humans are now aware of them, after an interspecies war that wiped out the world’s vampires and decimated many of the black dog packs. To the black dogs’ dismay, destroying the vampires also destroyed a type of mental mist or miasma produced by the vampires that kept humans from recognizing the magical creatures around them. Many humans recognize that at least some of the black dogs are worth having as allies against the more evil types, but it’s an uneasy alliance at best.

With one exception, these stories are set after the first book in the series, Black Dog, so interested readers will want to start with that novel, which relates how the three teenage half-Mexican Toland siblings joined the Dimilioc black dogs in Vermont. Genetics are tricky in this world: Alejandro, like their deceased father, is a black dog; Miguel is a normal human, and Natividad is a “Pure” who has the ability to do white magic, including calming black dogs so they can keep their black dog shadow under control. These four stories each focus on a different main character from Black Dog:

  • In “Christmas Shopping,” Natividad goes on a shopping excursion with Keziah, a recent addition to the Dimilioc, who is a black dog of Saudi heritage. The two young women aren’t close, but Grayson, the Dimilioc Master, insists that Natividad needs someone who can protect her against stray black dogs. But what the girls come up against is far worse than a stray! “Christmas Shopping” lingers a little too long over the mundane details of the shopping expedition before the excitement finally ramps up, but there’s a well-handled conclusion as the girls gain a deeper understanding of each other, and of Christmas giving.
  • “Library Work” is told from the point of view of Natividad’s brother Miguel, an intelligent and insightful young man, but rankling at the rude treatment he’s getting from a French black dog, Étienne Lumondiere, who’s been staying with the Dimilioc. Étienne’s latest chore for Miguel: cleaning the large library in the house, including dusting each individual book. The only benefit to this job is that it’s given Miguel a change to get to know Cassie Pearson, who’s been turned into a “moon-bound shifter” (a far less powerful type of werewolf) by the bite of a black dog. Cassie, too, is unhappy with Étienne’s preemptory ways, and together the two hatch a plan to turn the tables on Étienne. It just involves a slight bit of manipulation of Grayson, the Master … “Library Work” is an enjoyable mix of teenage attraction, resentments and conniving, with a nice twist to it that elevates this tale.
  • “A Learning Experience” follows another newcomer to the Dimilioc, Thaddeus, a large and powerful black man who was involuntarily co-opted into the clan along with his Pure wife DeAnn and their black dog son. This tale includes the backstory of Thaddeus’ first meeting with DeAnn as a child, and his struggles to adjust to being part of the Dimilioc. As he goes on a trip with Grayson to take out dangerous stray black dogs in the city, the stray he’s supposed to kill turns out to be a teenage Chinese-descent boy with a conscience and an aging grandfather who loves him. “A Learning Experience” uses this event to explore Thaddeus’ character and the challenges he faces in becoming part of a team rather than a lone wolf.
  • “The Master of Dimilioc” is a prequel story that takes place several years before Black Dog, but is still best read after that book. Ezekiel is the young “executioner” of the Dimilioc, the right hand and enforcer of Thos, the Master of Dimilioc at that time. He has unsurpassed fighting abilities and the unusual talent of instantly shifting shape between his human and black dog forms (valuable in fights since the shifting process makes all but the most severe personal injuries vanish). Ezekiel is also in love with Melanie, a Pure girl, though she’s engaged to be married to a regular human. The harsh Master of Dimilioc, Thos, unexpectedly intervenes in their personal relationships, and that and Ezekiel’s overhearing of a private conversation lead him to reassess Dimilioc and his role in it. “The Master of Dimilioc” was the strongest story for me in this set, with an interesting take on issues like choice and trust.

At the end of this collection is a bonus, an essay on genetics that encompasses both real world and black dog genetics. Props to Neumeier for the admirably high scientific level of this essay, which was enough to leave me at sea (genetics not being my field). But I was impressed with the thought and knowledge that went into it.

These four short stories are more like episodes than true stand-alone stories, but they do contribute significantly to the development of several key characters in the BLACK DOG series. Additionally, there are a few events in these stories that help to set the stage for the second book in this series, Pure Magic. They’re worth reading for those who enjoyed Black Dog and are interested in continuing with the series.

Published in 2015. Natividad is delighted when the Master of Dimilioc gives her permission to go Christmas shopping in a real town, since she definitely needs to find gifts for her brothers. But did Grayson have to assign Keziah to go with her? Étienne Lumondiere has annoyed Miguel once too often, throwing his weight around and belittling ordinary humans. But Miguel’s going to fix that. He just needs to work out a few more details of his clever plan. It’s tough for a black dog raised outside Dimilioc to adjust to being a team player. But Thaddeus is determined to impress Grayson… until he is unexpectedly confronted by a black dog kid who reminds him a little too much of himself. The Dimilioc executioner is the mainstay of the Master’s authority, as Ezekiel knows better than anyone. He has never questioned his role in Dimilioc… until now. “Christmas Shopping,” “Library Work,” and “A Learning Experience” all take place between Black Dog and Pure Magic. “The Master of Dimilioc” is a prequel story that takes place several years before the events of Black Dog.

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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3 comments

  1. I think I’d like this. Having read your reviews, do you think I could start with this volume w/o having read BLACK DOG?

    • I’d strongly recommend reading Black Dog first; it’s a much better introduction to this world, and you’d appreciate these stories much more with some understanding of this universe and the main characters. Besides, I thought Black Dog was an excellent YA urban (rural) fantasy (and a fairly quick read).

  2. I just say “contemporary fantasy” now because “rural urban fantasy” makes me laugh.

    Okay, I may go ahead and get both of them.

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