Black Dog Blues
Title : Black Dog Blues
Author : Rhys Ford
Genre : M/M, Urban Fantasy
Length : 277 pages (e-book)
Published : June 22, 2013
Ever since he’d been part of the pot in a high-stakes poker game, elfin outcast Kai Gracen figured he’d used up any good karma he had when Dempsey, a human Stalker, won the hand and took him in. Following the violent merge of Earth and Underhill, the human and elfin races were left with a messy, monster-ridden world and Stalkers were often the only cavalry willing to ride to someone’s rescue when something shadowy and dark moved into the neighbourhood.
There certainly were no shortage of monsters or people stupidly willing to become lunch for one. It was a hard life but one Kai liked. And he was good at it. Killing monsters was easy. Especially since he was one himself.
After an accident retired Dempsey out, Kai set up permanent shop in San Diego, contracting out to the local SoCalGov depot. It was a decent life, filled with bounty, a few friends and most importantly, no other elfin around to remind him he wasn’t really human.
That was until a sidhe lord named Ryder arrives in San Diego and Kai is conscripted to do a job for Ryder’s fledgling Dawn Court. It was supposed to a simple run; head up the coast during dragon-mating season to retrieve a pregnant human woman seeking sanctuary with the new Court then back to San Diego. Easy, quick and best of all, profitable. But Ryder’s “simple” run leads to massive trouble and Kai ends up being caught in the middle of a deadly bloodline feud he has no hope of escaping.
No one ever got rich by being a Stalker. But then hardly any of them got old either. The way things were looking, it didn’t look like Kai was going to be the exception.
Full disclosure: I know Rhys Ford personally and see her socially.
San Diego is an amazing but not commonly spoken of place. We have a famous zoo and Comi-Con. Not a lot of books get set here. Los Angeles and San Francisco are far more glamorous. When I do encounter a book set in San Diego I read it. Black Dog Blues, by Rhys Ford, was a book I snapped up immediately. Yeah, it’s San Diego, but a fantasy San Diego. I found that to be a win win situation. I read fantasy and mystery long before I became a romance reader.
Kai Gracen is a Stalker. Stalkers are something akin to a bounty hunter in a world where Underhill and Earth merged to the shock of the inhabitants of both places. The resulting wars are over leaving an uneasy truce. Kai finds himself hunting Black Dogs up in the mountains east of the city for the bounty. They get loose from Dusk Court hunts and plague the human community. After managing to bring down the pack and skinning them at Dempsey’s trailer in Lakeside, Kai goes into San Diego to find he’s been contracted to work for a sidhe lord. He could refuse but to do so would cost him his license. His hand has been forced. That pisses Kai off. Kai is himself elfin. He had a significantly abusive and torturous life among the elfin and he wants nothing to do with either the sidhe or the unsidhe. Kai is living his life as functionally human although he shuns human intimacy. His closest relationship is with his neighbor Dalia. Kai loves her, but feels any romantic entanglement would be disastrous. He loves her too much to lose her. When Kai finally meets his new employer, Ryder, his response to him is visceral. Kai has never wanted someone so intensely, not even Dalia. Kai learns that he will have to take Ryder with him on his job. They will be traveling through Pendle to the Beltaine Dawn Court in Elfhaine near Anaheim to get an eight months pregnant woman to bring her to Ryder’s Court of the Southern Rise. Good times! To further complicate things they’ll be driving through dragon territory during mating season. Doesn’t everyone want to deal with a pissed off and horny dragon?
The trip is dangerous. It’s made more so by Ryder’s great reluctance to kill a dragon, or take part in the killing of a dragon. When they do finally make it to Elfhaine Kai stays outside in his car, Oketsu, to take a nap. Some of the locals decide to try and determine if Kai is unsidhe or human. He doesn’t appreciate their attention. The situation is thankfully defused by the arrival of Ryder’s cousin Alexa. Kai has evidently been summoned to see Ryder’s grandmother, the head of Clan Sebac. It’s a horrible torturous experience for Kai. The woman knows he was created via unnatural means and wants him destroyed. She also wants the unborn child of the pregnant woman killed. Nice lady! After much apologizing on the part of Ryder and Alexa, who is very forward and sexually aggressive, Kai and Ryder leave Elfhaine with a very pregnant Shannon. Things start out well. They’re stopped in their progress by a herd of antelope rabbits. Then the black dogs show up. It’s pretty obvious they are deliberately going for Kai, Ryder, and Shannon. Ryder’s grandmother is serious about killing Shannon’s unborn. Of course it’s the perfect time for Shannon to go into labor. Kai told Ryder this would happen!
Kai finds a place to hide so Shannon can give birth. Unfortunately it seems like it’s going to happen in Oketsu. While casting a circle of protection against the dogs Ryder finds out about Kai’s secret. Part of Kai’s secret, anyway. In turn, Kai finds out about Ryder’s secret when Shannon gives birth to two sidhe babies. To get them to safety Kai and Ryder still have to get through the hunt that was called down upon them and the hunt master who know’s Kai’s father. Kai barely makes it out alive. Ryder does all he can to make sure Kai heals. Sidhe healers don’t want to work with him, the human hospital won’t treat the elfin, and the unsidhe court is flat out not an option. Once he’s back on his feet Kai finds the threat to the babies isn’t over. Ryder still needs his help and still wants it despite knowing everything about Kai’s personal history.
This was classic Urban Fantasy. Consequently, I wasn’t at all shocked by the lack of romance and sex. If a lack of romance in addition to a bisexual main character are things you can’t handle in a book, this one isn’t for you. What this book definitely did have was great world building. I’m not just saying that ’cause I got to laugh about the Elfin Forest, The Merge, or an abusive guy living in a trailer in Lakeside. I liked that we didn’t have the usual names Fae, Seelie and Unseelie, and Summer and Winter Courts. Whereas I’m all for tradition, the regular use of these names does create a sameness in many books. I also liked that Kai isn’t a stereotypical badass. He’s got no special physical ability and other elfin easily are better physical specimens, he’s also pretty clueless when it comes to magic. Kai’s great skill is firing a gun. He’s just a stalker that heals a bit faster than other guys.
Okay, I’d be seriously slacking in my review duties if I didn’t mention the editing of Black Dog Blues. At times it felt kind of non-existent. The book was riddled with misspellings and what seem to be typos. Some of this could be the result of formatting. I also felt there were some things that needed to be expanded upon. One specific instance was when Kai referred to a group of people as “skin jobs.” Yes, it was an insult, that much was obvious, but how severe? What did it say about Kai that he used it? It just felt a bit thrown in. I also felt there were some repetitive situations. Kai kind of threw up a lot. I get why, that’s not the issue. I can accept when a specific situation occurred it cause his body to respond with vomitous intent. Unfortunately, I found myself thinking, “Oh, Kai’s throwing up again.” He was also spat upon or at frequently. Part of me feels these are rather picky complaints, but they were what kept the book from real five star territory for me. Having said that, I do think this book was awesome. It’s completely worth the $4.99 I paid at Smashwords. At over 90 thousand words that is a steal.
Rated 4 stars by Faye