Dogs: Hellbound by S.M. Griffith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
“I think my brain had to catch up with the rest of me. When it did, that was when I finally snapped out of it. When a thought finally broke through the numbness I was feeling, hitting me like a ton of bricks and, somehow, I knew without a doubt, without question, that this sudden knowledge was absolute fact.
I was dead.”
Well, this was interesting! Before I go into my thoughts, as usual, I’ll give a short summary.
The story opens with a young man named Michael realizing that he is deceased and going to hell. When he gets to the office that checks him into hell, he learns that he is accused of having murdered his brother Danny, but he knows he didn’t. When the higher-ups of hell find that Danny’s soul is missing, however, Michael is assigned to be a Watcher of hell while they work on the case and eventually work to promote him to a Hunter of demons. Meanwhile, Michael finds that there are people that are not happy with his promotion to Hunter and, as he starts to learn about a threat from a soul known as the inugami, Michael finds himself tangled up in a mystery far greater than just the disappearance of Danny’s soul.
Okay. Here we go! Before we talk about structure, I want to discuss characters, mainly Michael and his hellhounds, but I’m also going to talk about some of souls he meets in the story.
Michael’s story quickly grabbed my attention because of the circumstances surrounding his situation. Griffith doesn’t give the reader much time at all to get to know Michael, but his first-person point of view helps to give a general idea of the kind of person he is. This is mainly shown through Michael’s reactions to things and his honesty when talking about the crimes he committed in life.
“‘He was into some pretty heavy stuff, and we sort of fell into it. I was caught selling drugs and went to jail. Uncle Henry eventually got me out and warned me not to get caught again. He didn’t have to. I never wanted to go back.’”
His memory loss regarding his brother is one of the things that helped me to feel sympathy toward him. Griffith makes it clear that there is something wrong when Michael gets severe headaches when trying to remember what happened to Danny. I’m interested to see where the memory loss is coming from and what may happen if and when Michael will be able to remember again.
“My head ached, and I rubbed my temple with a hand but pressed on. I had found blank spots in my memory even before going to talk to Danny, but I told [Gifr and Gamr] what I could, and then finding myself dead with no memory of events after leaving my apartment.”
I also like how it’s obvious that Michael cares about Danny and will do whatever he can to solve the mystery. While I would have liked there to be a hint as to what happened to him before the story ended, I am definitely interested to see where Griffith will take this next. I’m not sure the epilogue counts, because we’re not told who the businessman is, so I guess we’ll see.
Now, Michael’s not the only character that the reader can gain sympathy for. His hellhounds are just the sweetest things to him. I love that Gifr, Garmr, and Geri all want to protect Michael and work to help him when he’s on the job (mostly when he’s hunting for wargs and other demons). Seeing Michael bond with the dogs is really heartwarming to see and makes it easy to root for them.
“I was caught off guard when a large, cream and golden-hued mutt jumped on me, placing his massive paws on my chest. His tongue was lolling out the side of his smiling, panting face, and deep brown eyes stared into my blue for a moment.”
“I looked down to meet the calm, pale-gray gaze of a sleek, muscular red canine with tan markings over his eyes, chest, and paws. His wedge-shaped head came up to my shoulders, making him one of the tallest dogs I had seen. He nodded at me.”
I was unsure of whom I would comment on next, but I think Rogers would be good, since Michael spends a lot of time training with him. I admit, when Michael first met him, I was kind of on my guard about him as a character because I don’t really trust the higher-ups that assigned him to work with Michael. That being said, I actually enjoyed seeing him bond with Michael, to the point where I was a bit sad when he announced that he was leaving his position to be reborn.
“Rogers looked at the hat in his hands. ‘Guess you can say I’m retiring. Been doing this a long time, and I’ve avoided going back into the Living World, thinking there was nothing of interest there for me.’ His brown eyes turned back to me. ‘But I’m ready now. I’m going to be reborn.’”
While on the subject, another thing that made this story significantly enjoyable for me was Michael’s relationship with the other Watchers and Hunters he met. Most of the Watchers and Hunters are so kind to him and seeing him get along so well with them added to my enjoyment of the story, even if nothing significant was going on.
All this talk of how Michael’s job leads to these great relationships in the story puts one particular character in the spotlight, because he is the one person Michael is suspicious of. I admit, I didn’t fully understand in the beginning what the deal was with Powell and I did think Michael’s suspicion of him was a little odd, given there was really only one situation in which Powell was watching Michael in a weird way.
That being said, Michael reminding the reader occasionally of Powell’s odd behavior works to keep the reader on edge leading up to the epilogue, where it’s revealed he’s not the only one to be suspicious of.
“As we finally made our way out, a shadow caught the corner of my eye. Turning, I saw a Watcher with unwavering, luminescent amber eyes watching my every move. There were no dogs around him, and their absence made him stick out more among the crowd. The hairs on the back of my neck rose as if my instincts were warning me of the danger of a large predator.”
Speaking of that plot development, we can move on to structure using that device. I admit, I kind of wish Griffith had provided the reader with some answers to the questions Michael raises to the reader. I’m not saying give away what happened to his brother right now, but I was just a little disappointed that there’s all this setup for a huge plot with no answers to even the smallest questions raised.
For example, we don’t even get a hint as to what Osiris is up to when promoting Michael to Hunter. Michael does express some unease about it, and his dogs aren’t even allowed to tell him anything, which adds to the setup but provides no answers as to the story being told. I would have liked to see something that hints to what Osiris is doing and I know that’s hard to do given that this story is told from Michael’s point of view only, but it was still kind of a letdown. Maybe Osiris could have shown up in the epilogue. Maybe it washim in the epilogue, but Griffith doesn’t hint toward anything. I felt like I got to the end of the story not knowing what Griffith was going to do next, and I don’t really like when everything is left open with not even the smallest answer to a question raised.
This leads to another, smaller problem. I feel like it is hard to tell that the inugami is going to be the main antagonist of the story. So many questions are raised and so many things are set up that I felt like the narrative – as enjoyable as it was regardless – was just a bit unfocused. I would have liked if Griffith had made it a little clearer that the problem with the inugami is the main thing this story will deal with, because there’s clearly a climax involving that monster.
As for the other aspects of the structure, I like that Michael’s point of view does add to the conflict given his memory loss. Like I said earlier, his narration is easy to get behind and I really like that about the writing. I like that he has no idea what happened to his brother’s soul and just knows that he did not do anything to hurt him, which makes it easy to feel sympathy for him.
Like I said, I do have questions, but I like that the questions I do have can work to make a great sequel. Why can’t Michael remember anything about Danny’s death and what’s with the shooting headaches? Who killed Michael, since the story opens with his demise? What is Osiris up to and who’s the businessman from the epilogue? How does Powell connect to it all? Where is Danny’s soul? Will level Nine come into play in any way regarding all this, and how, if it does?
All in all, despite my issues with the questions raised in the narrative, I really did enjoy this story. I think the narrative has great potential and I am in awe of the world Griffith has created. I can’t wait to see where Michael’s story is headed next!