Series: HELLHOUND CHRONICLES
Plot Type: Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings: Violence—4; Sensuality—3; Humor—2
After winning her freedom from a reaper and facing off against a fearsome demon boss, Ava is now a masterless hellhound. Her friend, Leo, has found a new life after death: He’s returned as the Grim Reaper—the first in centuries. As both try to adjust to their new circumstances, Ava’s dark past comes back to wreak havoc on her...and the entire world.
> The Kingdom: A Heaven-like place that is run by the Host; "Nine generals who give the orders. There's nothing higher than them…" (Black Dog, p. 200)
> The Fallen: Fallen angels who were banished from the Kingdom. Originally, they were sent to Hell, but escaped to the mortal plane when the demons revolted against them. Most have maintained at least a few—but not all—of their particular angelic powers.
> Vampires: "Suckers aren't hard to pick out. They stink like old women's underwear, and unless they've got a good hemoglobin-rich supply, they start looking like beat-up luggage within a couple of weeks." (Black Dog, p. 28) Older vamps weigh very little because their internal organs dry out. The only sure way to kill them is to burn their bodies completely.
Then, Lilith pops in to scold Ava for her part in Gary's death and to send her out on a new assignment: to track down Clint Hicks, who has managed to keep Gary's hellhounds from finding him for more than 25 years. Clint has holed up in the wilds of Wyoming under the protection of a gang of meth-making, biker shapeshifters. Leo and Ava do a Bonnie and Clyde run across the West, stealing cars, throwing people out of motel rooms at gunpoint, and always looking over their shoulder for Sergei's thugs. Once Ava and Leo meet up with Clint, the story takes an entirely new tone and direction because Clint isn't human—he's much more. By the end of the book, Ava and the reader have met so many unreliable narrators that we don't know which one to believe. Ava decides to believe none of them.
In order to keep the spoilers to a minimum, I'll summarize the rest of the story by saying that the intrepid trio—Ava, Leo, and Clint—travel to New Orleans where Ava learns some new information about her true identity. Then, Lilith thrusts Leo and Ava into a hellish situation that results in pain and self-sacrifice for both of them. Ava sums up her situation near the end of the book: "In the last twelve hours I'd been kidnapped by Lilith, traveled to Hell for the first time, almost been stranded in the Hellspawn equivalent of a supermax, and met an angel who would probably peel my skin like a grape if I crossed him." (p. 340)
This is the part of the book that is heavy with world-building: the structure of the underworld, the history of the Fallen and the demons, and Ava and Leo's role in this big picture. Sometimes, the mythology is clear, but other times it is muddled and hard to understand. I found myself going back and rereading paragraphs, unable to figure out exactly what Kittredge was saying. All we can do is hope that either she constructs a glossary before the second book comes out or that her explanations are clearer in that book.
All through the book, we get flashbacks to Ava's human life and her tragic death in the early 1920s at the hands of two men she trusted. Here, she reflects on her death: "That was how Gary got me…I was afraid, of dying, of crossing, of finding out what was waiting for me. I let him take my soul and turn me into his monster, together for a hundred years and a hundred more—the same deal every hound got with their reaper." (p. 51) Her full death flashback doesn't come until chapter 17.
Even with the wonky world-building, I enjoyed the book, mostly because of the complexity of the characters. Ava, who still has her soul and her human memories, has both good and evil in her past, but she tends toward doing the right thing more times than not. If Ava has a fault, it is her tendency to overestimate her ability to overcome her enemies. She is constantly getting captured, injured, and tortured by both humans and supernaturals, but these failures never teach her to be more cautious. Her worst TSTL moment comes during a private meeting with Sergei, when she falls for one of the oldest tricks in the book: drinking something proffered by her enemy. This little scene will have every reader mentally screaming "No! Don't drink that."—but to no avail.
Ava's relationship with Leo is complicated; after all, he tortured her the first time they met. Leo has a tragic past: the bastard son of a truly evil man who consigns him to murderous work and little or no reward. When he meets Ava, his life is consumed by his need for revenge against his father. Neither Ava nor Leo is looking for love, but their forced comradeship ignites a mutual attraction that won't be denied. Kittredge doesn't turn this into an insta-love situation, though. Ava and Leo start off as enemies, then become frenemies, then comrades in arms, then mutual protectors, and finally friends and lovers. It's a long, slow, painful process, filled with darkly sarcastic repartee and periodic bouts of distrust and alienation.
Click HERE to read an excerpt from Black Dog on the book's Amazon.com page—just click on the cover art.