Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Book Review: The Dust of 100 Dogs by A. S. King

The Dust of 100 Dogs by A. S. King
Release Date: February 1, 2009
Publisher: Flux
Pages: 320
Received: Library
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
Goodreads Page


From Goodreads:

In the late seventeenth century, famed teenage pirate Emer Morrisey was on the cusp of escaping the pirate life with her one true love and unfathomable riches when she was slain and cursed with "the dust of one hundred dogs," dooming her to one hundred lives as a dog before returning to a human body-with her memories intact.

Now she's a contemporary American teenager and all she needs is a shovel and a ride to Jamaica.


This is not the book I signed up for

I was expecting a high seas adventure with pirates, epic love, reincarnation, a unique curse, and exciting treasure hunts. Instead I got a fractured story that never went anywhere and had gratuitous rape, sex, animal abuse, and violence. Based on the description, I really wanted to read this book. I still do. Unfortunately, that isn’t the book A. S. King wrote.

The plot that went nowhere

I felt like an abused donkey with a carrot hung in front of my face and, like the donkey, I never got that carrot. I slogged through boring and hugely depressing scenes as first Emer and then Saffron (who is Emer reincarnated, sort of) recount their tortured existences. Emer starved in Ireland during the 1600s and Saffron lived through the 1970s-‘90s with her alcoholic, trashy, do-nothing parents and drug addicted brother. I read through chapters and chapters of this and, looking back, they served very little purpose. Saffron’s scenes were especially superfluous, providing neither character growth nor plot advancement. To say the conclusion of her storyline (and the book) was anticlimactic is an understatement.

Emer’s story was at least somewhat satisfying. Like the blurb, I thought it was a great idea. There was epic love, unrequited love, pirating, battles, and treasure. Except, this was more told than shown, and the telling was far too brief. More time is spent in dreary, depressing Ireland with a young and starving Emer than on the high seas treasure seeking. I didn’t care so much for Emer as I did for the idea of a woman in her position. She was more like a legend than an actual character. Her romance was equally hollow with her barely there and almost entirely unknown love interest (like a Disney prince back in the day, Seanie spoke about five lines).

The curse was something I was very much looking forward to exploring, but it too failed to deliver. I wanted to know more about the curse, but at the very least I wanted to see how her time spent as 100 dogs affected her character. The answer, apparently, is that it didn’t affect her. Saffron shows absolutely no growth or, really, any effects of having once been a dog. How do you go 300 years and over 100 lifetimes without ever growing as a character? The point of these lifetimes seemed to serve only to allow Saffron to be reincarnated 300 years later, which could have been accomplished without the unexplored curse. I was disappointed.

Poor characterization

All of the characters fell flat for me and felt like caricatures. The bad characters lacked any depth or nuance and are instead simply straight up vile people (really, if you want to make me hate your character, by all means make him a perverted, rapist, animal abuser. I’ll hate him for sure, but I also might hate you a little for introducing me to him).

The “good” characters were almost as annoying, with few redeeming qualities themselves. None of the characters grew or changed throughout the book at all. This made their experiences seem pointless to read about.

Except, Emer and Saffron were not the same person at all. I’m unclear as to how the reincarnation worked exactly. Saffron was Emer, but she also wasn’t. She shared Emer’s memories and knowledge, but she did and thought things Emer wouldn’t have, to her detriment. Is this poor and inconsistent characterization? Is this a convoluted plot point? I don’t know, but that alone isn’t a good sign.

Shock and awe

As stated above, there are copious amounts of gratuitous violence, abuse, rape, and sex (both hetero and homosexual). This is a YA book, but in name only. Abuse against dogs is written about repeatedly, and with little to no relevance to the plot. I have never read animal abuse that even comes close to this in both frequency and detail.

Emer is raped, and the act is described in detail. Again, this has only the barest relevance to the plot, and the graphic nature of the act is unnecessary to get the point across. She also crudely refers to sex in an off-hand manner that also serves no purpose. None of these acts help build character development, with the sex mentions coming across as especially irrelevant and “shocking” for the sake of being edgy.

There are a few attempts at making a point, but each time the message comes across more like an afterthought or a throwaway concession to try to half-heartedly justify the violent scenes. It is one thing to show scenes like this if there is a purpose, but there wasn’t any here. It was just rambling violence that continually digressed from the barebones story.

Bottom line

I wish I had never read this book and it was only the hope of Emer’s story improving that kept me reading until the end. I feel deceived by the false advertising and disappointed that I never got to read the book I was hoping this would be. In my library I do still recommend books I didn’t like to my patrons because their tastes may be different, but I can’t comfortably recommend this book to a YA patron. Their parents would kill me.

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about The Dust of 100 Dogs that I haven't addressed? 
Feel free to ask in the comments!


  1. I hate it when a book promises so much and utterly fails to deliver :( I hope your next book is better ^.^

  2. What a disappointing read; I will make sure to stay far away from this because I know the content issues in addition to poor characterization would displease me greatly.

  3. Wow...I think I've actually read at least one positive review of this one, but like Bookworm1858 I will be steering clear of this one in the future! Gratuitous rape and violence are not my thing, and it sounds like one of those books that could actually leave a lasting disturbing memory. Sorry you pushed through it all the way to the disappointing end! :(

  4. False advertising, pointless plot, underdeveloped characters, animal abuse, and inappropriate actions in a YA novel. What more could have been wrong with this read? Sorry about the bad reading experience. But at least now you're able to warn your readers to stay away.

  5. You did a good job of explaining why you didn't like this one. I recently read her book Please Ignore Vera Dietz. I liked it. It was a very inliterary book. Do you think this was trying to be that way, or it was just trying to cram in rape, violence, etc?

  6. Oh man, that stinks!! We don't think we could handle the dog abuse, much less any of the other stuff (which we don't object to out of hand, but do not appreciate when it's gratuitous).

    How strange that this is the same person who wrote PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ, which everyone loves...

  7. I've had this on the back of my To Be Read list for ages! I love the cover, and the reincarnated pirate who's been through hell and back as a dog sounded amazing.

    But from what you describe, it sounds worse than The Underneath by Kathy Appelt, another book that socks you over the head with unexpected animal abuse.

  8. I've never heard of this book. I will steer clear of it though thanks to your review. But it kind of reminds me of an article I just read about YA and its "dark themes" that are corrupting our youth. I don't agree. I feel that poor quality of writing is destroying literature, not a specific section.

  9. It's books like this that get parents up in arms about YA a la that WSJ article. I don't know how you were able to get through this one, but major kudos to you. This one sounds really hard to stomach.

  10. Wow. I think I'll pass on this one. I'm surprised if there's that much violence and sexual content that it is marketed as YA. And as troubling and horrific as the rape and violence no doubt is, I think it's the dog abuse that would probably put me over the edge when reading. Thanks for your thoughts on this one, it will definitely not be going on my list!

  11. At least the cover's kind of awesome...? Haha.
    Seriously, though, this book sounds intense. Mad props for getting through it! Great honest review.

  12. Great review! I've never heard of this one but if I had, I don't think I'd pick it up because I don't like its cover. In this case, that's a good thing because from what you described, there's no way I'd be able to finish it. I'm surprised you actually read through the whole thing.

  13. I was expecting your review!! You were annoyed by the same parts as me. Especially agree with the "Shock and awe" paragraph. And you read it all as well.Ugh...waste of time.

    Did you see the ratings at Goodreads? There are so many 4-5 stars! I was really surprised!

  14. Wow. I was hoping to read this because the idea of being cursed to live as a dog sounded really different. Obviously it doesn't seem to focus on that as much as I thought. And the violence and animal abuse really turns me off.
    Don't think I'll waste my time with it then. Thanks for the honest review.

  15. whoa! Thanks for the honest review!!! i had no idea!

  16. Good honest review! I would have wanted to read that story from the summary as well but am glad you told the truth. Maybe someone will do a better job next time!

  17. Small~ Really sorry that you absolutely detested this book, especially after you had been expecting such good things from it-- what a bummer! I know that I hate it when they throw a bunch of sex and violence into movies just for the sake of shock value, and books are no different. Well, I hope that the next book you reads is freaking amazing to make up for this disappointment! :(

    Lea @ LC's Adventures in Libraryland

  18. Mmm... yeah, I don't even like this title...
    I don't know what I expected from this book but I was kind of put off with the cover and title.

    And I hate when I feel like the donkey :( it's so infuriating.

    I'm sorry there was no pay off for you with this book, after all you went through with it.

  19. I thank you so much for sharing today! I too was following this based on the blurb expecting something along the same lines as you. There are too many good books out there that I am eager to read for me to spend my shekels on one that has made such a significant impression - not that I don't think for myself and take reviews with a grain of salt, because I understand that not everyone will like the same thing, but I have followed you for a while and respect your opinions agreeing with most of what you have to say. I wish there were more discriminating folks at our library. I do not believe in censorship, but I do believe a book should be labeled appropriately to the appropriate target reader. I think parents should take some responsibility in what their kids are reading. I found my first Laurell Hamilton book in the YA section of our library. Now I really enjoyed the book and subsequently have followed the series and when my son was younger he knew how much I liked it and asked me if he could read it. I simply told him the truth that I felt this series was a little mature for him and explained why. I told him I would not tell him not to read it, but I would request that he wait a few years. I feel blessed that my son respected my wishes and the fact that I explained the reasoning behind my opinion. Thank you for sharing today.

  20. I think that books that deal with such dark areas as rape need to be have strong mutli-layered characters and show some sensitivity. Thanks for your honest review. I definitely won't be reading this.

  21. This is definitely not the book for me. Shock value, alone, does not make a book, and graphic details only work to enhance an incredible plot - think, The Hunger Games. Great honest and thoughtful review :)

  22. Huh, and I thought I was the only one who hated this book. I bought it at a second hand bookstore because it sounded awesome. I made it all the way through it too, but hated every second. I gave it away on my blog and there were so many who said they really enjoyed it. Very well written and much more clearly stated than my own review :)

  23. Small-

    I have actually read good reviews of this. I was always intriguied because of the living the life of a dog for so long but, since you've reviewed it, I won't bother. I do think it's strange that this is the same author that wrote the Vera Dietz book. It sounds like two different authors!

    Have some Vivian Vande Velde and you'll get the smut off your eyes!


  24. Sniffly Kitty, Me too :( Luckily I’ve read a lot of great books since that one.

    Bookworm1858, Yes, it was so disappointing. Especially with such a promising premise.

    Danya, I have read a number of positive reviews, but I don’t understand them. I’m happy for them though, because at least they read a book they enjoyed. Me, I wish I had brain bleach.

    Aylee, The only thing worse would have been a bad cover. I have to say, I adore the cover. You’re right though, at least now I know. I couldn’t imagine how embarrassed I would have been if I had given this book out to a young patron.

    Alison, Thank you. I’ve heard such wonderful things about Vera Dietz, so maybe it’s a very different book? This was her first book, so maybe she was finding her author legs. I don’t know what the author was trying to do here, but the outcome didn’t seem very literary to me. Those features didn’t seem to have much of a point.

    We Heart YA, I agree. If it was just the other stuff and not the animal abuse, it wouldn’t have bothered me as much (though it still would have bothered me). But the way it was, it was all just too much. And for what? I didn’t see a point to any of it because none of it affected the characters or advanced the plot. It is strange that she also wrote Vera Dietz, but I haven’t read that book so I can’t compare. I have heard they’re very different though.

    Madigan, I love the cover and the idea too! That’s why I was especially disappointed and why I continued to read. I haven’t heard of the book you mention, but I’ll be sure to stay away from it now. Thanks!

    Bookish Hobbit, That’s the thing here, it has “dark themes” but what’s worse is that it just didn’t seem written very well to me. The characters were flat and inconsistent, the plot meandered, the ending was anti-climatic, and the “dark themes” didn’t advance the plot or affect character development in any way. A person could argue that Lolita has “dark themes” but Lolita is written beautifully. The Dust of 100 Dogs is not.

    Logan, Yes it is exactly books like this that would have a parent in a rage. Working in a library, I get especially frustrated with books like this because I don’t know what to do with them. Do I give them to an adult? No, they probably wouldn’t like it because it’s classified as YA. But I can’t give it to a YA reader either. So what do I do with it? At least the books in the article had some sort of “teaching moment” thing going on, but here there was nothing like that. The dog abuse was just vile and there and the rapes were just there as well. They didn’t affect the characters and there was nothing to “learn” from it. She just sort of shrugged and moved on. It was very strange.

  25. Jenny, I was very surprised, too. I had heard that the author originally wrote it as adult fiction but then her editor (agent? Publisher? I don’t remember who now) said it was perfect for YA and so that’s what it was sold as. I don’t understand what they were thinking, but maybe that explains it? The dog abuse was constant and not even the “good” characters seemed to care.

    Lauren, The cover is totally awesome. I still love the cover, even though I know now that I hate the book.

    A Canadian Girl, I’m the opposite, I picked up the book because I liked the cover (and the title and the blurb). I’m still shocked that I finished it. I think I kept hoping it would redeem itself and be like what the blurb promised. The way it is set up is that the dog lives, Emer’s life in the past and Saffron’s life in the present are all going on at once, and I wanted to see what would happen to Emer.

    Yiota, Total waste of time for me. I did see all those Goodreads reviews! I guess good for them for liking the book and not wasting their time, but I don’t see what they see at all.

    Laura, The curse sounded so good to me too! But no, there are a few chapters thrown in at various points titled Dog Fact # and then she recounts a small episode during one of her dog lives. They were only a few pages long and each event was horrible and pointless. That’s the extent of the exploration of the curse.

    Carrie, You’re welcome! I know, you get no hint at all based on the blurb.

    Celesta, I hope someone writes this story because I still want to read it :P

    Lea, It’s always such a disappointment because I go into every book hoping I’ll love it. I agree, it’s the same with movies. I’ve read a lot of great books between then and now though, so it’s all good :)

    Alex, I actually liked the cover a lot, so I was doubly disappointed that a book with a cover I liked turned out to be a book I didn’t like. It is infuriating being the donkey!

  26. Denise, I agree with you. I don’t consider it censorship to want to know what you’re getting into with a book. At least that way you can decide for yourself if it’s the kind of book you want to read. There’s a reason there are different categories of books, and when one is placed in the wrong category I think it’s important to put that to rights.

    Nic, I agree with you. Here Emer just sort of shrugged it off. The act wasn’t given any weight or sensitivity at all. It seemed to be there more to show that HE was a bad guy, not that SHE was affected.

    Melissa, Exactly like The Hunger Games. Shock, gore, all that has a place if there’s a point to it. The characters here were so bland and unaffected by everything, that there didn’t seem to be any point to all the shock and awe aspects.

    Melissa, Oh definitely not the only one! Yiota from Splash of Our Worlds also disliked it a lot. I’m glad other people like it, but I don’t understand that position at all.

    Heather, Oh no Heather, with how you feel about dogs I think this book would absolutely turn your stomach and make you angry. It is weird that she wrote Vera Dietz, but this was her first book so maybe that had something to do with it? I don’t know, but I also haven’t read Vera Dietz to compare. I could totally go for some Shile and Wieland after all that :D

  27. UGH! This book sounds so terrible, nothing worse than reading something you thought was going to be awesome and then it's not! Bleh!

    The cover freaks me the heck out.

  28. Oh man, Smalls. What a hot mess!

    Definitely not for me, but my biggest question is how did it get away with being YA?

    The animal abuse you mentioned was enough to make me sick but add rape for shock value... not cool.

    I'm sorry you didn't get what you expected, but thanks so much for your review, because now I know to avoid this one.

  29. Lah, I agree! I do love the cover though :)

    Missie, Total hot mess! I have no idea how they managed to stick it into YA. I think the story goes that the author had written it as adult, but then the editor or someone like that said that it would be perfect for the YA market and so it was placed there. I'm baffled though.


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