I was looking forward to this book and was eager to read my copy when it arrived because if there’s one thing I enjoy about these authors’ writing, it’s the undergarments of their fiction. While some stories are pretty straightforward and consist of one layer, whether that layer is brocade or linen, books featuring Crusie, Stuart, and Rich as authors are different. These writers usually dress their stories in multiple layers, and the undergarments are key. The undergarments are usually, forgive me, rich and complex, with themes threaded through that only appear intermittently, but ultimately influence the whole of the story. Once I can identify the undergarment, the story takes on a whole new and more complex meaning. With Agnes and the Hitman, the undergarment was evil, gender, and the definition of family, for example.
Dogs and Goddesses began with promises of a fun and thorough analysis of concepts not usually examined in romance fiction: obedience, worship, dependence, control, and emotional and power balance between women and men. The authors played with concepts of family versus pack, of choosing a community of caring people over the people to whom you were born or raised, and of defining what care and caretaking mean. The promise of that collected exploration, particularly the one that dealt with obedience and women in and of power, was a heady plot theme in the first two-thirds of the book. Ultimately, though, that promise was not fulfilled for me.
Abby, Shar, and Daisy are drawn together in a small Ohio town. Shar is a professor at the local college, Abby has just inherited a coffee shop and apartment building from her grandmother, and Daisy, who is methodical and careful, has been assigned care of her mother’s chaotic dog. They meet when unconsciously drawn to a dog obedience course – though Daisy is the only one who seems to need the course, as her dog is totally spastic. The women are really being summoned for obedience: the instructor is a risen goddess, Kammani Gula , a Mesopotamian goddess who disappeared from history thousand of years prior. The women’s connection to Kammani is revealed slowly as they learn that they are the priestesses of the goddess, and that this goddess is pretty much determined to rule the world.
The villainy in the story is complex and human: while a lot of fiction involving goddesses is all about ruling the world with big heaping piles of magic powers that no human could hope to battle, Kammani has an ambition problem, a temper problem, and a cruelty problem. Combine that with goddess powers and Daisy, Shar, and Abby decide she is Up To No Good and they agree to work together because She Must Be Stopped.
But, unfortunately, their powers and identities were largely ambiguous, leaving me with more questions than answers. Are they or are they not goddesses in the end? What happens to the other two of the seven priestesses, who were easily dismissed as vapid silly idiots except for the glimpses of fascinating awareness and wisdom they showed? The two young women were deft twists of stock bubble headed girl character tropes, and their absence in the final resolution was notable. Their marginalization was disappointing as well. What about the characters, old and new, at the end – how will they be incorporated into a family? I have so many questions about the happy ending that I’m not sure it was happy. Or an ending. There is so much unresolved in my mind that I flipped pages at the end looking for an epilogue or a “But wait! There’s more!”
The development of individual heroines seemed, forgive the bad pun, sacrificed for complexity of the story. At times I couldn’t tell the women apart because their reactions and actions were so often homogeneous. Further, the men were unique, but underdeveloped. Any one of the couples would have been plenty, with additional backstory and emotional development of the hero and heroine, for a stand-alone romance. One book for each of the three pairs would have been some fab reading. Combined, I couldn’t keep track of them all, and had to assign nicknames to the women based on which job they did in the story – not the solution they would have preferred, seeing as their story and their power was very woman-centric and not at all reliant on the males or the professional status in their lives.
Abby was the magic Cookie-cooking one. Daisy was the Web one (can we stop capitalizing “web” for crying out loud?!) and Shar was the professor. The aspects of their talents as goddesses, with the sword and the bowl and the something or other were fascinating but didn’t seem as woven into the overall story as other facets of their new identities. They intuitively knew so much of who to do the magic woo-woo stuff that I often felt they were tools at the hands of the story, rather than the story developing through them. Suddenly Abby makes cookies instinctively. Suddenly all three of them handle copious amounts of battle magic intuitively. Magic is awesome but as a reader I felt woefully uneducated and left out.
I keep using the word “develop.” Really, that’s my impression of this book a few days after finishing it and pondering why I have been feeling so dissatisfied. The potential was so strong, and the finish didn’t meet that potential. It’s like an overexposed photograph. There could have been so much more detail and texture to the story and it ended up pale and washed out instead of vibrant and powerful.
The writing is sharp and fast, and the humor is ample, from jokes woven in from old movies to canine comedy. I sometimes got the feeling that there was additional meaning to a scene and I was missing it, almost like not being in on a joke that’s sort of evident but not obvious, but the characters were quirky enough that anything odd I could ascribe to their offbeat funkiness.
The best part, however, for me, was the dogs. Hands down. I could go on and on about how fantabulous the dogs are. It’s a tricky thing to make a pet a character, let alone an entire cast of pets. I’ve laughed aloud at the idea of books told from the perspective of a cat, a dog, even at one point a bird, I think, but when the dogs started talking in this book, that was the dialogue, which was marked by a change in typeface in my reader’s copy, that I looked for eagerly.
Bowser the Newfoundland, Bailey the Jack! Russell! Terrier! Bounce! Bounce! Bounce! And Wolfie the dachshund were the best part of the book for me. Every character was paired with a dog, and the dog wasn’t a foil or a shadow complimenting a weakness or highlighting a strength. The dogs were characters. What could have been cutesy and molar-hurtin’ sweet was instead a collection of wonderful individuals with unique personalities and limited but expressive dialogue. Seriously. From the beginning when they’re comrades and companions to the heroines to the middle when they start talking to the end when they’re part of a large and growing source of power and community, the dogs are awesome.
One thing about the dogs totally cracked me up: the fantasy of dog ownership for the heroines, particularly Abby. For example, Newfoundland dogs drool. Drool like giant tubes of droodle from their soft mouths. Newfy owners joke that drool strands stuck to the wall after a Newfy shakes himself and the droodles go flying is a unique form of decorating; I believe they call it droodle stucco. Bowser, lucky dog, does not drool at all, at least, not that is mentioned in the story. I looked at it as part of the Fantasy of a Romance Novel. No one ever has morning breath. Drooly dogs don’t drool because, well, unless you are an animal person who will forgive any number of disgusting things that dogs do (cat box crunch biscuits, anyone?) I imagine discussion of Newf drool would yank some readers out of the story as “Yuck, ew, gross.” And as I particularly love Newfoundland dogs, I loved Bowser, with or without drool.
The dogs are awesome.
The goddesses, alas, were not as awesome. The individual characters were so intertwined I couldn’t really differentiate between them, and their individual roles in the larger explorations of power and obedience were muddled at the end. I read the story happily for the dogs, and they totally deserve their share of the book’s title. The dogs are marvelous.