Wendy Wagner, An Oath of Dogs, Angry Robot, 2017.
Audiobook version available on Audible.
Let's face it: after having finished An Oath of Dogs, I wasn't entirely convinced I would review it. But as I read other books, I realised that the characters and the story remained with me. To me, this is the sign that there is to a novel more than I first perceived, and it means that it is well worth a review.
Kate Standish arrives on the forest moon of Huggin only to find that the man who recruited her has disappeared. She takes his place in the powerful corporation Songheuser, working on the communication network for the little town in which two communities coexist: the Songheuser workers who exploit the forest, and the Believers, a religious community who farm the land.
But soon, Standish who battles demon of her own, realises that strange things are happening and that wild dogs roam the place, sometimes attacking people.
An Oath of Dogs is an eco scifi novel with a strong point and another one, which I was less enthusiastic about. The strong point, to me, was the detail and the level of scientific accurateness Wagner brings to the ecology of the forest moon: she creates a vividly detailed flora and fauna (no Ewoks, though!) and they are at the centre of the plot. The science is well done, even if, obviously, there are scifi and artistic licenses which bring inventiveness and also move the plot forward.
But I was less enthusiastic about the approach to ecology and corporations. It was heartfelt but a bit naive, whether it came to Big Bad Corporation, eco terrorists or people caught in between.
But where An Oath of Dogs really finds its strength is in how this alien biology affects the people who come to colonise the moon. Wagner weaves very interesting threads between the science - the flora, fauna and topography of Huggin - and the characters. It is from the links between the moon itself and the people on it since the beginning of the colonisation that the drama unfolds, whether it is from the eco angle or about those mysterious and dangerous dogs. The story can veer into some slightly gore-ish horror, but it remained quite acceptable, even for me who don't like horror.
The gallery of characters is well done and varied. Standish, as the main character, is the more detailed of them all. Suffering from PTSD after an accident, she needs her therapy dog, Hattie, and is often on the wrong foot when relating to other people. Bajowski, a biologist working for Songheuser, is another misfit, caught between his job and his duty of care to the flora and fauna of Huggin. Finally, the group of Believers, the religious community, is at the heart of the mystery and their past is slowly revealed through diary exceprts.
An Oath of Dogs is, in the end, a story of redemption and what sets it apart is how this cannot be separated from the ecology angle.
Overall, An Oath of Dogs is at its weakest when it deals with the corporation plot as it can't escape sterotypes. But its undeniable strength is in the links that it creates between the ecology and the people who came to this moon. This is what makes this novel very much worth reading, not only for the detail that will delight science aficionados, but for the universality it brings to the tale.
The writer's website.
If you've liked An Oath of Dogs, you may also like