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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A solid follow-up in the series
J.M McDermott's "Never Knew Another" introduced us to "Dogsland", as well as the heart-breaking circumstances of the "demon children". "When We Were Executioners" takes us back there, in a great follow-up novel showing the struggles of a man drawn into a greater conspiracy, even as he only wants to be allowed to stay unnoticed and unharmed.

As in "Never Knew...
Published on February 8, 2012 by Brett

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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not for me ...
I was so disappointed with this book. The first in the trilogy I loved so maybe my expectations were too high here.

My main problem was there seemed little progression in the plot. I still loved the descriptive style of writing, but I kept thinking I was reading this for no purpose. Sounds harsh, but the whole novel seemed like it was a few padded out chapters...
Published on February 9, 2012 by wallaroo


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A solid follow-up in the series, February 8, 2012
By 
Brett "Reviewer" (Salt Lake City, UT) - See all my reviews
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J.M McDermott's "Never Knew Another" introduced us to "Dogsland", as well as the heart-breaking circumstances of the "demon children". "When We Were Executioners" takes us back there, in a great follow-up novel showing the struggles of a man drawn into a greater conspiracy, even as he only wants to be allowed to stay unnoticed and unharmed.

As in "Never Knew Another", the story is essentially a story-within-a-story. The "narrators" are Walkers of Erin, a shape-shifting couple determined to hunt down and destroy all traces of demonic influence. Their sections often have a slightly surreal feel with the prose, since the Walkers are dwelling not just on the present in Dogsland, but what they sense of its past through supernaturally heightened senses. Their storyline centers around the hunt for Rachel Nolander and an ancient demon-child named Salvatore, even as they continue to explore Jona's life through his remains.

The primary narrative is that of Jona, the "of-demon" man proclaimed dead at the beginning of the series whose remains are being used to track his lost love Rachel and the demon Salvatore. Whereas the first novel dwelt much more on Jona's and Rachel's attempts to avoid detection, this novel focuses much more on how Jona is caught up in the political conspiracies that are rife within the city, at the same time that he's trying to further develop his relationship with Rachel. The sections where he tries to help Rachel find some normality and pleasantry in her otherwise grim life are quite touching. It re-emphasizes the fact that while the demon-children truly are dangerous (their blood is deeply acidic, their touch sickens normal humans after a time), they are also innocent human lives just trying to survive in a dangerous, difficult world.

The real strengths of this novel lie in two areas: prose and characterization. McDermott is excellent at weaving a potent, if surreal image of "Dogsland", a trading city rife with poverty and crime. As we read, we move not just through the present areas where Jona is, but also through the city's past and future, its hopes and tragedies. It's easy to screw up dream-like prose, but McDermott manages to make it very readable.

Characterization of Jona, Rachel, and the Walkers of Erin is the other strong point. Jona is particularly developed as a man who does his duty as a soldier, and feels a sense of responsibility over the town area that was once his family's ancestral land. He's not a -good- person by any means, but he does try to protect Rachel, and feels horror when faced directly with what his accursed presence can do to others. Rachel is a survivor struggling to live, and both eager for and frightened by the glimpses of a better life that Jona offers her. The fact that we know from the beginning that their relationship is doomed to end with Jona's heartbreak makes it all the more tragic. Finally, the Walkers of Erin manage to balance sympathy in some way for the demon-children they hunt, while not wavering in their determination to destroy them.

Like its predecessor in the trilogy, this is not a long book (264 pages). Nonetheless, it manages to weave an interesting story that sets the stage for the tragedy that will finally occur at the conclusion of the trilogy.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Inner-City Fantasy, not Completely Unlike The Wire, February 3, 2012
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This review is from: When We Were Executioners (Dogsland) (Paperback)
When We Were Executioners, by J.M. McDermott

Sometimes there aren't reasons for things; sometimes things just are. This is true for the characters and story depicted in J.M. McDermott's book, When We Were Executioners, and true for the book itself.

Thus far, The Dogsland Trilogy is the polar opposite of high, epic fantasy. I'm not quite sure what the opposite of epic is, but in this case the narrative is super small and extremely personal, almost to the point of it being a work of pointillism.

The Dogsland Trilogy is low fantasy, very low, and also very urban. I'm not talking about urban in the sense of a Neil Gaiman or Clive Barker urban fantasy. This isn't cute-goth, or weird alt-London, or steampunk. It's urban in the sense of it taking place in the inner-city; it's urban in the same way that The Wire is urban. It's about the lives of a few people trying to get by, it's about whores and drug dealers, cops and criminals, addicts and politicians, all trying to live their lives with the cards they were dealt, while all around them the city, their very environment, chews them up and spits them out.

And the chewing gets nasty. McDermott punctuates this book with a few scenes of extreme, grotesque violence, violence that has a point, and violence that hits hard. It is graphic and hard to read, but never gratuitous. This is not violence in the context of action, or titillation, or excitement. These depictions of violence serve to illustrate the consequences of living in a city like Dogsland.

When you get right down to it, there isn't a lot going on plot-wise. It's basically a direct continuation of the first book, Never Knew Another, almost to the point of it being the same book. Things happen, but there isn't a grand, sweeping narrative with an exciting dramatic drive keeping the pages turning. It is, rather, a very small story about people, their lives, their love, and their survival.

And so what's the point of the book? What's the point of it being a trilogy? I'm sure if you simply examined the plot of the entire thing, you could easily tell the story in a single volume, perhaps in the length of a novella; the plot is not complex, at all. But some things don't need points, or reasons. Some things just are. This book exists simply to read about and spend time with a few fictional characters, not completely unlike people you might know, save for some of them being shape-shifters and of-demons. It exists to be read, and isn't this the ultimate purpose of all fiction?
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not for me ..., February 9, 2012
This review is from: When We Were Executioners (Dogsland) (Paperback)
I was so disappointed with this book. The first in the trilogy I loved so maybe my expectations were too high here.

My main problem was there seemed little progression in the plot. I still loved the descriptive style of writing, but I kept thinking I was reading this for no purpose. Sounds harsh, but the whole novel seemed like it was a few padded out chapters omitted from the first novel. It just became boring. I did make it to the end but won't pick up the final part of the trilogy when it's available. For me the whole trilogy would've been better served as one complete novel.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A truly unique author, February 14, 2013
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This review is from: When We Were Executioners (Dogsland) (Paperback)
One thing that really annoys me about the fantasy genre is that they are typically very condescending to their readers. Having to spell out every detail of the world in oh so convenient history lessons that some random throw away character just spouts out. It's as if we're dumb and can't figure things out.

McDermott respects the readers intelligence, and let's them figure things out as they go along. To truly understand and appreciate this book, you have to pay attention to what is going on. Its a beautifully written, compelling story. When you know the destination, you can take the time to savor the journey.

One of the most unique styles of writing I have ever encountered, check out Last Dragon by McDermott as well.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Even Better Than the First, March 14, 2012
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I stayed up late into the night reading this book because I just didn't want to put it down! I thought it was a great sequel and now I am eagerly awaiting the third installment.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Couple of Wolves in Wolves Clothing, January 31, 2012
By 
Kevin Scott Brown (Orangevale, CA United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: When We Were Executioners (Dogsland) (Paperback)
The time is upon us again to travel to the land of Dogsland, a town of deep-seeded evil and greed. This book is part two in the trilogy, a story that follows the Executioner's of Erin as they continue to rebuild the last days of Jona, a half demon, from the memories in his lifeless skull. The plot weaves in past and present and much of the story is told in Jona's perspective. Jona past focuses more on his relationship with the half demon Rachel, while his dark side begins to grows stronger. The present focuses on the consequences of Jona's actions and how the wolf-skin executioners handle it.

The book hold to the same formula of the last one. The narrative feels wobbly and forced, but this is intentional. Each page is wonderfully detailed but disjointed, for great contrast. Some points of Jona's memories feel like a walking dream, while other parts are drastically real and graphic. The plot and pace are grand and can make for a short but well balanced read. When we were executioners is a showcase of the supernatural with perfect writing coupled with an interesting plot. The ending hints towards the Walkers of Erin taking a more active role and plenty of other surprise are in store for anyone that picks this book up.

*Originally published for San Francisco/Sacramento Book Review*
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Utterly brilliant, September 28, 2012
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This review is from: When We Were Executioners (Dogsland) (Paperback)
I don't write many reviews, but I felt compelled to write one here. This is one of the great fantasy books of our time and it's a shame that it's not reached a wider audience. If want plot driven, easily understood magic systems (whenever I read this on a cover, I run away), or fast paced action yarns, then avoid this book. If you want to find beauty in bleakness, intense thematic ground, or feel completely engrossed in a foreign world, you might actually enjoy When We Were Executioners. I wish I were a better writer so I could do justice to this review.

The slums portrayed are heart-achingingly brilliant. Forget fantasy, this is an incredible look into any pre-industrial slum where life hasn't achieved the value in the age of medicine, violence is an always present danger, and survival is the primary motivation for all. This is an immersive quality here that is rare. The details are stunning, oftentimes ugly, but handled in such a deft manner to render them new and familiar at the same time.

The central relationship between two people unfortunately born to a demon parent, is amazing. Part coming of age, part two people finding themselves in this crazy world, part survival, and all beautiful. McDermott shares with Cormac McCarthy the ability to render beauty in emotionally desolate, outwardly bleak worlds. He clearly loves his characters, warts (and more) and all. Not satisfied with simple plot moving characters, every secondary character gets a personality that is unique and astonishing in its way. In fact, there really isn't much of a plot. It's ostensibly about the search for one of the demon spawn lovers, but it's really about so much more.

I guess the best way to describe this book is that I inhabited it. It was like I pulled a wolf cloak around my body for the few days I read it and just lost myself in it. Plot meant nothing. The details of the relationships, characters, and setting sucked me in.

I love this book.
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When We Were Executioners (Dogsland)
When We Were Executioners (Dogsland) by J. M. McDermott (Paperback - February 28, 2012)
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