- Age Range: 12 and up
- Grade Level: 7 - 12
- Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: Flux; First Edition edition (January 13, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0738714267
- ISBN-13: 978-0738714264
- Product Dimensions: 5 x 1 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 92 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #604,365 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Dust of 100 Dogs Paperback – January 13, 2009
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From School Library Journal
Grade 9 Up—Pirates, reincarnation, dogs, teenage angst, a romance that spans the centuries, magic, treasure—all are wrapped up inside a fun Goth cover that belies the very adult story within. Emer Morrisey, the youthful scourge of the South Seas in the 17th century, has lived through 100 lifetimes as a dog, and now shares the body of 20th-century teen Saffron Adams. Along with fantasies about torturing and murdering most everyone around her, Saffron's sole ambition is to escape her pathetic family and find the treasure she knows lies buried somewhere in Jamaica. The book is not for the faint of heart or stomach, with painful scenes of animal and human abuse, attempted rape, battles, and murder. Particularly difficult is the character of Fred Livingston, the reincarnation of the French captain who killed Emer's lover, and who is quite obviously crazy. His very disturbed mental state is shown through his truly evil actions toward his dog and the voices that taunt him day and night. There will be teens who find Emer/Saffron's story much to their taste, but this is definitely not a book for a wide audience.—Mara Alpert, Los Angeles Public Library
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Saffron Adams is a typical teenager, longing to escape her dreadful family and upbringing into a sunnier future. What sets her apart, however, is that she actually has the means to such a future via the buried treasure she left on an island 300 years prior. As Emer Morrisey, she was the scourge of the Caribbean but was then cursed to live the life of 100 dogs. Interludes explore what she learned during her dog lives until she is reborn, memories intact, as a present-day girl. The dual stories of Emer and Saffron progress in parallel, but as the pirate tale gains momentum, the modern strand meanders; readers will likely flash through Saffron’s teenage doldrums to return to Emer’s vainglorious exploits. But don’t mistake this for a romanticized romp on the high seas; the sex is occasionally graphic and disturbing, and the violence is particularly gruesome. Readers will be frustrated by a few plot holes and contrivances, but for the most part this is an undeniably original book that overreaches, yes, but only as a byproduct of its ambition. Grades 10-12. --Ian Chipman
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In the back of the book is an interview with the author. The interviewer asks about reincarnation, and which characters moved forward alongside Emer/Saffron. King says, "Must reincarnation be literal?" Well, you just wrote 300+ pages in which it was, so, yeah. The universe of the book must have rules, and I would like to know them.
Like other reviewers, I feel mislead about what this book was going to be like. I was looking forward to swashbuckling and a strong, dangerous heroine. I was looking forward to the effects of trapping someone in the form of a dog for 100 lifetimes. I expected some fun. Instead I got a depressing, meandering story that told way more than it showed.
Emer and Saffron are the same soul (or whathaveyou), the same person, but they're very different women. And no explanation is given for how or why. She spends 300 years incarnated as dogs, and there's no growth. Emer, at least, has some fire in her belly. Saffron is detached. It's as though Saffron inherited this mission from Emer, has put all her resources into it, but doesn't actually care about the outcome, let alone what she'll do after that. The emotional beats just aren't there. And Saffron doesn't grow as a character during the course of the novel--crucial to the YA category.
Saffron's family situation is also bizarre. The family has no money, but her brother is spoiled. His being spoiled is the reason he becomes a drug addict. Her parents both become substance abusers as well. None of this is dealt with. Saffron just wants to GTFO (understandably). None of that is a spoiler because it has no impact on the plot. These things happen alongside Saffron, in another aisle. They don't really touch her. The end result is that Saffron comes off as extremely detached, unfeeling, and... bland. Maybe a little sociopathic, because how could she live with the terrible things in her life and not react to them?
Emer's life is better, but still flat. If you read only her parts you'd get a choppy telling of a female pirate's youth and life on the high seas. It might move you a little but it would never really stir you. The only reason it stirred me was because she was the only character I liked--if she disappeared, what would be the point of continuing?
Then there's the matter of of Fred (who "may or may not" "be" the Frenchman). About a third of the way through we get a lengthy chapter all about Fred and his lifestyle of leisure, but there's no reason to care about him so you're left wondering why, why am I reading about this bizarre man? He also shows absolutely no growth. The Frenchman is given no motivation beyond wanting to possess and bed Emer. There's no sign that he's as mentally fractured as Fred is--and we have no idea how he got to be that way. So, we're left with two unsavory characters serving as flat antagonists, one of whom is a rapist, and one of whom abuses his dog, leers after young women, and is otherwise equally detestable. The Fred character is not a YA character. He's certainly not a throwaway antagonist for a YA book. He belongs in a psychological thriller where his twisted little mind can be picked open.
A good concept, with no emotional resonance.
A little more than three hundred years later, Emer is reborn in 1972 as Saffron Adams, the youngest of five children and the last great hope of her parents. Alfred and Sadie Adams are not the most successful of people and they certainly aren't the best of parents. Emotionally scarred by their pasts and resigned to living on the edge of poverty, Saffron's parents float from one addiction to another, content in their miserable lives. To them, young Saffron seems like a gift from heaven. Her incredible genius (gained through one hundred and one lifetimes of memories) seems to Saffron's parents a guarantee of her future success. Alfred and Sadie long for the day when she can become a practicing physician and take on the burden of the family finances, But Saffron has other plans. As soon as she graduates from high school she means to head to Jamaica and dig up the treasure of jewels she and Seanie buried there long ago. With Seanie dead for more than three centuries, wealth is a cold consolation, but it IS a consolation. It seems, however, that even after 300 years, fate still has a few twists to throw her way.
The Dust of 100 Dogs was A.S. King's first published book and while it has flaws, it also has instances of pure brilliance. The novel is composed of three interwoven story-lines: Emer's (human) life history; Saffron's struggle with her parents' expectations and her eventual journey to reclaim Emer's legacy; and the concurrent modern story of Fred Livingstone, a troubled, abusive Englishman living on the Jamaican beach where Emer's treasure is buried. Emer's story is the most compelling and also the most beautifully rendered. Although hers was a life filled with violence and loss, her spirit was indomitable and she proved herself a survivor over and over again. The earliest part of her story - her early Irish childhood through the Cromwell-led invasion and conquest of Ireland - is particularly moving and magnificently told. On the other hand, Saffron didn't really start to exist for me until a little more than halfway through the book, when she arrived in Jamaica. Up until that point, all of her thoughts and her narration, even in the modern story, seemed to be Emer's and I was surprised the first time she referred to Emer as a separate person.
This book is exceedingly violent. Rape, torture, child abuse, animal abuse, drug abuse and the horrors of 17th century warfare are all described fairly graphically. Bearing that in mind, The Dust of 100 Dogs is probably NOT a Y.A. novel in the traditional sense, although mature teens (particularly those 16 or older) should handle it fine. Having mentioned the violence, though, I feel it is important to note that these horrible acts are native to the tale being told. The times, as well as the histories and the psychological make-ups of the characters involved are the root of the violence and it never feels as if it is gratuitous or extraneous. In fact, the only parts of the novel that DID feel false and tacked on were the eight homilies - examples of 'doggie wisdom' - interspersed throughout the book. To me, these "Dog Facts" were disruptive and felt like a mechanical contrivance used solely to remind the reader of where Emer's consciousness has been for the past three hundred plus years.
So now we come to what is always a difficult question. Would you recommend this book to others? For me, the answer is yes, but I wouldn't hand it over to just anyone. Overall I liked it, there were many parts I loved, but I recognize that not everybody would feel the same way. In fact, I am sure there are many people who have read this book and hated it. It's that kind of book - one that will provoke a strong response and have you thinking about it long after you finish reading it. I thought it was wildly original and disturbing and wonderful and (occasionally) disgusting and a whole host of other adjectives I won't bother to list. Perhaps the best part of reading The Dust of 100 Dogs (besides the brilliant slice of Irish history) was the introduction it provided to A.S. King. She is an author of immense talent and passion and I expect her subsequent novels will be brilliant.