Review: A Feral Darkness by Doranna Durgin

Brenna Fallon is a dog person. When she was nine years old, she read about an old God called Mars Nodens. Upset that her beloved old dog was dying, she found a place on her family farm where the elements aligned with the ancient places that Nodens was worshipped.. Offering up a heartfelt prayer to save her dog’s life, she also offers the thing most important to her: She cuts off her hair with her pocket knife and her faithful hound lives a remarkably long time.

Years later, a group of drunk young men break through the pasture fence and tear through the pasture on their ATV’s. They foul the spring and the old dog’s gravesite. They tear up the ground, and kill a rabbit injured by the tires of their machines. Their actions awaken a violent darkness that will affect the lives of everyone in this rural community.

Brenna is now working as a groomer at a large pet store. She’s harassed by a bullying manager, a dismissive brother and a new employee who all seem intent on belittling her skill and professionalism.  When her friends and clients begin to talk of a feral dog pack and the spectre of a rabies outbreak, Brenna finds herself fighting an evil born of both greed and a supernatural malevolence.

I don’t give five star ratings lightly. This novel deserves it. When I’m sitting at work with my eReader strategically placed next to my keyboard so I can snatch another page or two during slow moments, I know I’m on to something good. Can’t-put-it-down good.

What I liked: Durgin knows how to build suspense. The plot ebbs and flows with unseen threats followed by lulls, circumstantial evidence, grief and joy. It builds to a satisfying standoff that kept me up way past my bedtime. The characters are realistic. Brenna, her friend Emily, her boss Roger, her asshole brother and the suspicious new dog trainer, Gil Masera. Even the dogs, Sunny and Druid, are important characters. I was particularly delighted by the mystery game of “who’s the villain?” that kept me riveted.

Another thing I appreciated is the obvious care the author took to get the details right. Every small thing from grooming procedures to dog handling to modeling good firearm safety speaks of her attention to detail. I could easily see this little upstate rural farmstead clearly in my mind.

What I disliked: Very little, and it speaks to why this is a fantastic book. There were a few points where I wanted to grab the protagonist by the shoulders and shake some sense into her.  But that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Humans beings are human, and when I get so invested in the story that I feel like jumping in? Yeah. Five stars.

This version is a digital reprint of a book originally published in paperback in 2001. I’m guessing the author got her copyright released for digital versions and is putting some of her backlist into the market. I’m glad she did, otherwise I would have missed it. It’s a little gem that will be a great addition to your eBook collection.

I’d recommend this book to dog lovers who enjoy a tale full of magical realism and a little romance with some Celtic paganism on the side.

 Find it at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

About S. Kay Nash

S. Kay Nash is a writer, editor, and bibliophile. She lives in Texas with a mad scientist and a peaceful contingent of dogs and cats.
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