Caitlin R. Kiernan is my personal savior. Last year, after months of reading nothing but crap books and seeing my numerous prayers for decent reading material go unanswered, I picked up Kiernan’s debut novel, 1998’s Silk, and was blown away by the stunning imagery and creative wordplay. It kept me from drowning in an ocean of mediocre writing, and wound up coming in at number three on my 2009, end of the year “Best of” list.
Soon thereafter, I purchased Daughter of Hounds not realizing it was the third book in a series of novels revolving around the Silvey family. When I found out, I figured I should read the first two books, Threshold and Low Red Moon, before diving into Daughter of Hounds, only neither of them appealed to me. The synopses on their back covers didn’t grab me the way the one on the back of Daughter of Hounds had. So I left it languishing in my “to read” pile for a year as I tried to decide whether or not to buy Threshold and Low Red Moon.
But, as you can see from the number of bad and luke warm reviews I’ve churned out since the New Year, I’ve been having another run of bad luck with regard to reading material. After so many duds I desperately needed something good to read which is why I finally reached for Daughter of Hounds. And I am glad I did because, once again, Caitlin R. Kiernan put an end to my losing streak.
Daughter of Hounds takes place in a Lovecraft-ian world where ghouls and monsters, having been banished from the surface of the Earth, live in vast, underground cave networks, silently plotting to take back control of the world. Soldier is a changeling with a mission. Stolen from her crib as a baby and raised by the ghouls, it is up to her to dispose of anyone on the surface who might stand in their way. Eight year old Emmie Silvey isn’t much of a threat. Struggling to understand the psychic abilities she inherited from her father, all Emmie wants is for her dad to stop drinking and her step-mother to move back into the house. But when their paths converge, Soldier and Emmie learn that the lives they have been living aren’t the ones they were supposed to live.
First off, you do not have to have read Threshold or Low Red Moon in order to understand Daughter of Hounds. The book is whole unto itself, and Kiernan gives as much background as is necessary to understand the story.
All the elements I’ve come to expect of a Kiernan yarn are present – the creative wordplay, the strong description and character development. Kiernan creates a world you can see, smell, taste, and touch from the very first page.
What I appreciated the most about Kiernan’s style this time around was her willingness to trust the reader. So many of the books I’ve read over the last couple of months felt like they were written by authors who thought their readers were idiots. They spoon fed their story to the reader, not trusting them to make even the tiniest leaps of logic.
For example, when introducing a new character they would momentarily put the scene on hold to explain the new character’s entire background even if the details were irrelevant to the current scene. It was as if they needed to prove the character belonged in the story. Kiernan, by contrast, does not tell you everything you need to know about each character as they are introduced. Instead, she tells you what is important to know about that new character within the parameters of the scene, and allows additional information to trickle out as needed as the story progresses. Aside from building tension and giving readers an incentive to keep reading, Kiernan’s approach indicates confidence in her readers’ intelligence. She trusts they don’t need to know every connection, detail, and event in a characters life right off the bat in order to care about them or understand how they fit into the narrative.
Same goes for plot twists. I’ve read a lot of fiction in which each plot development warranted a complete re-hash of every event that occurred up to that point, as if readers are so forgetful they need to be constantly reminded of what they’ve read. Kiernan only spells out how particular plot twists relate to other aspects of the story when the relationship is unclear. Otherwise, she just lets the story unfold, and allows the reader to connect the dots. She expects her reader to have paid close enough attention to the text that she won’t have to spoon feed the story to them. Kiernan puts a lot of thought into her writing and expects her readers to do the same.
I enjoyed Daughter of Hounds so much I want to read the first two books now. I became so invested in this world and these characters that I need to know their back story. That’s what a good writer does – she makes you want to run out and buy everything she has ever written. And really, what sort of disciple would I be if I didn’t?