J. M. McDermott is the author of five novels and a short story collection. His first novel, Last Dragon, was shortlisted for a Crawford Prize. He lives in Decatur, Georgia, in a maze of bookshelves, coffee cups, and crazy schemes.
Never Knew Anotherby J.M. McDermott
Fugitive Rachel Nolander is a newcomer to the city of Dogsland, where the rich throw parties and the poor just do whatever they can to scrape by. Supported by her brother Djoss, she hides out in their squalid apartment, living in fear that someday, someone will find out that she is the child of a demon. Corporal Jona Lord Joni is a demon's child too, but instead of living in fear, he keeps his secret and goes about his life as a cocky, self-assured man of the law. The first book in the Dogsland Trilogy, Never Knew Another is the story of how these two outcasts meet.
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I love the immediacy and flow of the prose in this book. It was an entrancing read for me. Plus, there's a metaphorical punch to this book that goes far beyond fantasy. After finishing this book, I found myself contemplating the wisdom of rigid set of beliefs and the nature of evil. IMO, all fiction readers will enjoy this book. For me, the story revealed, in an extremely palpable way, the experience of living as a sentient being in a hostile and unforgiving world. The book doesn't define the world it creates. Instead, it vividly paints that semi-medieval world through the characters. The book is narrated by a wolfskin wearing Walker who can shape-shift into a wolf. Accompanied by her 'Walker' husband, she hunts for half-demons. The book starts with that unnamed Walker and her mated husband coming across the corpse of a half-demon dressed in the uniform of the King's Guard. Demon-children are toxic. Their blood, saliva, tears and sweat cause the immediate death of plants, and their taint may result in animal and human death. The corpse pollutes the ground upon which it rests. It is the duty of the Walkers to hunt demon-children and deliver them to the local authorities for burning at the stake. Plus, they are charged with the responsibility of purifying, often by burning, any place that has absorbed the demon taint. Walkers also have the ability to incorporate the memories of the dead, and the narrator does so in order to determine if this dead demon-child knew any others like himself. It's a bit macabre but fascinating as she prepares the skull of the dead man, named Corporal Jona, for transport. As the book proceeds, she accesses Jona's life memories which causes the narrative to change to a third person account of his life in a city identified by the Walkers as Dogsland. Jona's life memories are visceral and moving. Initially his isolation, frustration and brutish violence come through, but gradually a flicker of hope and, perhaps, love emerges. As the Walker follows the trail of Jona's memories in Dogsland, she becomes aware of two other demon-children, a woman named Rachel Nolander who has lived in squalid circumstances with her fully human brother and a short-memoried thief named Salvatore. When she catches the scent of Rachel and Salvatore, she is able to glimpse their memories as well. The narrative transitions from the short first person accounts of the Walker's hunt through Dogsland and the third-person narratives of the lives of Jona, Rachel and, to a lesser extent, Salvatore. The bottom line is that this book does what good fiction is suppose to. It initially mesmerizes you, then it makes you think. This is the first book in a trilogy. I'll be reading the second book 'When We Were Executioners'.