Cover copy: Rage Winnoway’s closest friends have always been her four dogs: Bear, Billy Thunder, Elle, and Mr. Walker. When Rage sets off for the hospital where her mother lies in a coma, the dogs and the neighbor’s goat tag along. On the way, they run into the firecat, who talks them into going through a magical gate. And something wonderful happens! Each of Rage’s friends is transformed. Bear becomes a real bear; Billy Thunder, a teenage boy; Elle, a warrior woman; Mr. Walker, a small, large-eared gentleman; and the goat, a satyr with an inferiority complex. Together, Rage and her companions embark on a quest to save the world of Valley, a journey that is somehow tied to Rage’s family.

I love this premise. I am a total sucker for any sort of "let's establish these characters; now let's see what happens if you make a huge change to something very basic about them." I also really like shapeshifters other than cliche versions of werewolves. So the dogs-become-humans thing? All over it.

The execution is sort of there and sort of not. We get just enough of the animals as animals to see how their altered versions match their animal personalities. But it's a comparatively short children's book with a comparatively large cast, so no one gets as much development as they needed for the whole thing to be amazing. And the plot is very standard old-fashioned quest fantasy in which the heroine gets directed to gather plot coupons.

In between plot points, Carmody was doing some quite ambitious things, such as paralleling the broken relationship between the mother and son dogs (now a bear and a boy) with Rage's relationship with her mother, AND her mother's relationship with her family. Lots of deep issues of love, trust, attachment, and abandonment... but not dealt with in a very deep way. The age level and genre tropes fought the more sophisticated and interesting elements, and what was left was a book that promised more than it delivered.

(Rage, by the way, is short for "Rebecca Jane." I would find this more convincing if a) she had chosen it herself, b) she had any rage.)

The part that fascinated me the most was the incipient sexual tension between Rage and Billy Thunder, her beloved dog who is now a boy her own age, who loves her unconditionally and will say so. He's also described in a quite sensual manner. AND HE'S A DOG. None of this is ever explicitly thought of by Rage, but it is written in a way which I am pretty sure is meant to make the reader think it. But nothing comes of it.

SPOILERS answer your burning questions: does Billy Thunder go back to being a dog? Do any dogs die?

Read more... )

There is a sequel and a promised third, which may or may not materialize. Has anyone read any of Carmody's other books? I feel like she'd probably be more successful writing to an even slightly older audience, like at a YA level.

Night Gate: The Gateway Trilogy Book One

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