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Blackdog

If you are reading Karavansara, chances are you have an interest in fantasy and sword & sorcery, adventure fiction, writing and storytelling, the East and the Silk Road, history ancient and recent, knaves and adventurers, or an intersection of any of these. You are welcome – those are also some of my interests. Which is why I am willing to bet that you might like the book I am reading right now, and I am liking quite a lot.

The book is called Blackdog, and was written by K.V. Johansen, a Canadian writer that in 2012 was shortlisted for the Sunburst Award thanks to this book. The book was published by Pyr, a publisher that has a killer catalog and also, alas, is usually pretty expensive, but Blackdog is worth every penny. You don’t trust me? Dig the back cover blurb…

In a land where gods walk on the hills and goddesses rise from river, lake, and spring, the caravan-guard Holla-Sayan, escaping the bloody conquest of a lakeside town, stops to help an abandoned child and a dying dog. The girl, though, is the incarnation of Attalissa, goddess of Lissavakail, and the dog a shape-changing guardian spirit whose origins have been forgotten. Possessed and nearly driven mad by the Blackdog, Holla-Sayan flees to the desert road, taking the powerless avatar with him. Necromancy, treachery, massacres, rebellions, and gods dead or lost or mad, follow hard on the their heels. But it is Attalissa herself who may be the Blackdog’s—and Holla-Sayan’s—doom.

Blackdog is part of a loose series called Gods of the Caravan Road, and it is indeed a fantasy set in a secondary world based on the Silk Road. It features wind-swept trails across the steppe and the desert, monasteries and warrior-monks, and magic and religions that are not the usual D&D-based run-of-the-mill stuff we see too often in contemporary fantasy.
Characters and places are original, fascinating and unusual, the characterization is subtle, the dialogues are dynamic and have a strange rhythm that speaks of far-off lands. The writing itself is beautiful, and it is reminiscent of Harold Lamb – and this is high praise, I know, but certainly deserved.

What I also like about Blackdog is that it is a stand-alone book. Granted, it’s a hefty 500-odd pages (but I am reading the ebook version), and there is three other volumes taking place in the same setting, and a fourth coming, but I can read this one, from cover to cover, and be done.
Of course I am not fooling anyone – I’ll buy the other books and read them and enjoy them quite a bit – but this is not one of those endless sagas that feel like promissory notes.
I found out, as I grow old, I enjoy short stories and novellas more than novels, and stand-alone novels more than cycles, sagas and n-logies. It was good, when I was fifteen or thereabouts, to contemplate a reading of J.B. Cabell’s twenty-five volumes in his Life of Manuel series. These days, I am content with a big book full of caravans and raiders and strange magic.
The promise of further books exploring the same setting is seductive, but really, one book at a time is fine with me.

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