Diana Wynne Jones,
(William Morrow, 1977;
HarperTrophy, 2001)

Sirius is the illuminary, or entity, that resides in the Dog Star and controls what happens in his sphere. If you're already confused, you're not alone, as the premise here is very unusual.

The basic idea is that all the celestial bodies are inhabited by beings of great power, called "illuminaries," and these entities vary in their degree of power, or effulgence. Sirius is a fairly effulgent (powerful) illuminary. He has been tried and convicted of destroying another illuminary in a conflict related to jealousy and a possible affair with Sirius's companion, a beautiful white dwarf star. Normally, the sentence for destroying another illuminary is death, but the court decides on an unusual alternative sentence: Sirius is to be born as a dog on Earth, and he has that dog's lifespan either to perish or to recover the Zoi, a weapon he used and lost while destroying his victim.

Once on Earth, Sirius is not only limited by being a dog, instead of a powerful illuminary, but he also has very few memories of his past life and is having trouble remembering who he is and what he is supposed to find. The puppy, Sirius, is nearly killed by his initial owner, but is rescued by a little girl, Kathleen, who has many problems of her own. As Sirius grows up, he gradually recovers his memory, forms some unusual alliances, and gains perspective on how he can become a better ... person? illuminary? entity? You get my drift.

I found this book a little confusing in one respect. Its target age-range was unclear to me. Some of the writing seemed to be aimed at children the age of the character Kathleen, who is about 8. But, many of the abstract concepts involved are fit for older children, adolescents and adults. Very bright young children will be fine with it, while other young children will struggle. Older children, adolescents and adults will enjoy much of the story but may find some of the writing to be almost condescending.

The first half of the book moves a bit slowly. Conceptually, the "illuminary" idea reminded me of Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality series, or even Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light. Toward the end of the book, not only did the pace and the plot complexity increase, elements of folklore emerged; it began to remind me of Charles de Lint's writing, especially Greenmantle and Into the Green.

Despite the varying pace and the varying reading-level of the writing, I enjoyed Dogsbody. The author appears to understand dogs and love them, and that permeates the work and adds real depth to the story.

by Chris McCallister
20 May 2006

Buy it from Amazon.com.