Paperback, 272 pages
Published: August 1, 2001 by Greenwillow Books (1st Published 1975)
Sirius, who inhabits the “dog star,” has been tried and convicted of a terrible crime. He is banished to earth to be born in the form of an ordinary dog. If he can remember enough of his existence as a luminary to complete a quest and find a certain magical object, he will return to his previous existence. Otherwise, he will live his short life as a dog then die.
Sirius is born into a litter of half-Labrador puppies, sired by a mysterious red-eared dog. A few days after they are born, the puppies are dropped into the river to drown. Sirius and four of his siblings survive, and he finds himself in the care of lonely little girl named Kathleen. Living with relatives in England, far from home, Kathleen is ostracized because she is Irish. She and Sirius form a deep bond. As he muddles through his life as an ordinary canine, coping with hostile humans and rivalries with cats, memories of his former life start to seep in, and he remembers his quest. He sets out on his mission, getting help from unexpected sources.
This was my first foray into Diana Wynne Jones’s work, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. It is a fun and unusual novel with unexpected twists. Much of the book focuses on Sirius’s canine life surrounded by a troubled family and three cats. This story, which could easily have been dull, insipid, or hopelessly cute, is told with humor and charm. The rest of the novel delves into fantasy and adventure, with a bit of Celtic mythology woven in. At each turn in the plot, I didn’t know what to expect, and I was particularly drawn to the mythological overtones.
The story also drew me into Sirius’s mind — he was a surprisingly well-developed character. Other characters, including Kathleen, were lightly drawn but endearing. And I liked the thought-provoking, bittersweet ending.