Book Review: Black Dog Rising by Kat Caulberg
Updated: Jan 28, 2021
You should never accept any food offered to you by the Fae, and the same goes for Kat Caulberg, author of Black Dog Rising.
It isn't that she's a terrible cook, just that she has developed complete immunity to the heat of the peppers she grows in her garden. So, when she hands you one--perhaps a Chocolate Habanero or Scorpion Pepper--don't assume (like I did) that, just because she can pop a whole one in her mouth and chew away, that you can do so as well (like I did), or else you will immediately experience intense pain with considerable discomfort for a surprising amount of time later (like I did).
Before either of us had published anything, Kat and I worked day jobs side-by-side. Several times a week, she would leave her shop to visit my cafe and find some gleeful way to torture me. Also, I fed her. And we would talk about writing.
So, it is with great relish that I read her novel Black Dog Rising, and I wanted to give it the attention I feel it deserves here. Kat even gave me permission to post an excerpt.
from Chapter Three
Although the pub was long past its evening rush, patrons sat elbow to elbow at every bar stool. Most of the tables were taken, and the loveseat and benches by the fireplace were full. Emma discovered a miniature booth not far from the kitchen. No bigger than a confessional and with sides half as high, it afforded her a view of the bar while giving her privacy.
Carvings lined its interior. To her left, a gentleman wearing a goatee and a bunch of lace at his chin kept watch over the entrance, his features smoothed by centuries of contact with hands and shoulders. To her right, a lady surrounded by ivy faced the bar, a secret in the upturned corners of her lips.
The figures were simple, yet Emma detected a resemblance in the gentleman’s sharp angles and high brow with the far more detailed portrait hanging over the bar. Tracing a fingertip along his sculpted cheek, she guessed they must be one and the same.
Movement from under the painting shifted her regard. Toby stood behind the taps, studying her with an expression she couldn’t quite decipher. She meant to smile, to raise her hand in greeting to him, but his stare hit her with an unexpected intensity, sending heat through her.
He strode around the bar and wove through tables to stand in front of the booth. The dim light cast his skin in gold. “Feeling any better?”
“I’m okay, I suppose.”
“Can I get you anything?”
“I was thinking of dinner.”
“Probably a wise choice,” he said. “We don’t want you getting faint again.”
She frowned, running a finger around a set of initials carved into the tabletop. “Did I get faint, Toby? Or did that man drug me somehow?”
He pulled a chair from a neighboring table and sat beside her. “I don’t think he drugged you, love. If he had, you would’ve still been worse for wear by the time we made it back here. No, I think you were just feeling poorly from lack of food.”
“I don’t know,” she said. “It felt like more than that. Weirder.”
“I’m sure it did.”
“Anyway, I’m glad you were there to save me again.”
“Happy to be of service.” He spoke low, his voice carrying quietly in the space between them.
Emma leaned against the high booth wall and felt her smile spread. She didn’t attempt to contain it, although it caused her bruised jaw to ache. “I almost think you mean that.”
“Do you doubt me?”
“You said you don’t like people.”
“Yes, well, perhaps I’ll make an exception in your case.”
“And why is that?”
“You don’t irritate me.” He said it without smirking.
“That’s a definite improvement on your view of humanity. Who knows? Tomorrow, you might start a soup kitchen.”
He snorted. “Let’s start with your supper. I’m afraid there’s only chicken pie left, but Johnno made it, and it’s lovely.”
“I’ll take it.”
I knew I was going to enjoy the supernatural romance of Black Dog Rising as soon as I met it's leading couple, Emma and Toby. They don't embody unrealistic ideals of masculine or feminine perfection. Neither is a helpless sap desperate to be rescued by a romantic savior. Both are strong and capable and have troubles haunting them, and each one rises to the occasion of saving the other. That in itself was refreshing, but added to that is the joy of their banter. It's an even match of wits between them at every turn. And finally, as a bit of an anglophile, I enjoyed seeing their adventure take them through the English countryside, where ancient magic still holds immense power and must be reckoned with. Away from the city, where the night is so dark, there are ghosts and shapeshifters and the cold, capricious Fae, with riddles and curses that can keep souls captive for centuries. Hell of a fun read.
And since I know the author personally, I thought I'd make use of that privilege to ask Kat some questions about her novel.
1. What do you as a person to find attractive about Toby and sympathetic about Emma? What would you like your readers to see in both of them?
I think a lot of what I find attractive about Toby is his vulnerability. Despite his hard exterior and the walls he throws up to shield himself from developing relationships with most people in general, at heart he's like a lot of us: lonely, hurt, and the owner of a few regrets about his past. He's also a grumpy old smartass, and that's always a plus in my book.
Emma's his opposite in many ways. She's open and trusting, with the propensity to see the best in almost everyone. She allowed me as a writer to see into this world of dark magic and folklore with new, fresh eyes, and to take on some of its more frightening aspects without getting too lost in the horror. She's no fool, however, and it's her wits and her hope that help her win the day.
2. About the Fae lore, what were things you researched for the book, which were things that you already knew from personal interest, and what were things you took creative license on?
I've been interested in folklore since I was about six years old. The day I picked up World of the Unknown: Ghosts as a kid, I was consumed by stories about black dogs, grey ladies, radiant boys, and screaming skulls. Most of the folklore in Black Dog Rising comes from almost four decades of obsessing over our shared cultural folkoric heritage.
To pick apart what I took creative license on in BDR and what was strictly folklore would be difficult. For example, there is an East Anglian tradition of growing stones (rocks which were have said to have grown either while they were still underground or after they'd been dug up), but not quite in the massive size the reader encounters in the book, nor do the "real" stones act quite like mine.
I take great pains to explain that the Black Shuck in the book isn't the same as a church grim, a barghest, or a gally-trot, which are all forms of Black Dogs, but all different from one another. And yet, the way BDR's Black Shuck came into being is completely my own.
The Fae in my novel are much more like the actual Fair Folk of lore than most people realize, as they're horrible, vicious creatures who stole humans for their own amusement, but the individuals in the courts are of my own creation.
All in all, the traditional folklore and my own are woven so tightly together it's difficult to tell one from the other.
3. This is your second published novel. Were there any differences in how you went about it? And are you working on a third novel now?
I went about writing Black Dog Rising in a completely different manner than I wrote Three Star Island. I sat down to write TSI in about three months, with another three months for revisions before I sent it out to the publisher.
Black Dog Rising took six months to write, with another three or so for revisions and beta reads, and I pre-plotted more of it than I did TSI. It took several rewrites to even get Black Dog Rising started, and a heck of a lot more interweaving of details, dialogue, and plot lines than TSI did. I love Three Star Island, but it's a much simpler novel than BDR.
I love them both, but I feel I grew a lot as a writer while I was writing Black Dog Rising. I hope it shows.
Black Dog Rising by Kat Caulberg is available in print and on Kindle.