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Literature / Black Dogs

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Black Dogs is a story written by Ursula Vernon and is broken up into two or three parts depending on whether you're reading the novels or have read the Elfwood version. The draft on Elfwood was removed a few years back due to some censorship issues, but the story lives on in novel form.

The first book, "The House of Diamond", starts out with a 17-year-old girl named Lyra Volfrieds stumbling into the massacre of her entire house, which was orchestrated by her illegitimate brother. She barely manages to escape into the woods with her life, and with her lack of survival skills and street smarts would likely not escape the forest either. Fortunately for Lyra, an unlikely encounter with the anthropormorphic dog soldier Sadrao Majid earns her a new friend and a better chance at survival. Unfortunately, however, the assassination of her house turns into small fries in the face of the newer, bigger threat she has to deal with.

Along the way the duo meet up with a half-elf love interest named Trent, a pair of full-elf lesbian lovers named Jacyl and Sinai, and they travel together for a while. Sadrao and Sinai teach Lyra fighting skills and the latter imparts a kind of magical combat knowledge, called the Kytha, upon her before they part ways. Sadrao and Lyra are left to deliver Trent to the House of Diamond to get him magically scanned while Sinai and Jacyl set out to the elf capital to deliver a message. They encounter a couple of Sadrao's old acquaintances, the Funny Animal Spite, an anthropomorphic ermine/ferret, and Gunnar, an anthropomorphic giant ground sloth. Trent gets captured and the remainder of the novel follows the rescue attempt.


The sequel, "The Mountain of Iron", starts with the party captured by a fairly impotent mage, and breaking free without too much difficulty. Later on Lyra gets lost and finds herself in a den of barbaric anthropomorphic hyenas. She is rescued and accompanied by a small black dog. It turns out that this black dog was actually cursed into that form by a wandering magician, and Lyra, falling into his trap, is transformed as well. Trent performs an act of magic to restore both Lyra and the dog (who is a woman going by the name Kuroinu) to humanity, and earns Sadrao's trust. Trent gets recaptured by his father. There is a great war at the foot of Ironspine between the elves and Vade's forces, and Sinai marches into Vade's fortress carried by her Kytha. Lyra is captured by Vade, and in his fortress she finds out that there is more than one face to evil.


Provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Oh boy... Well, while Trent wasn't subject to much physical abuse, he was put through some of the most horrible emotional and psychological abuse imaginable.
  • Action Girl: This series becomes jam-packed with them as it goes on. First it starts with Sinai and Jacyl and as Lyra develops her fighting skills, becomes one herself, then Spite comes along, and then there's the whole race of hyenas...
  • Air-Vent Passageway: Deconstructed. It is portrayed as tough, claustrophobic going in the dark, with Lyra suffering several minor injuries, and a high chance of Lyra falling and breaking her neck. Or breaking something else that renders her unable to escape, and dying slowly over several days.
  • Amazon Brigade: The hyena people.
  • Animal Stereotypes: Sadrao the dog soldier is loyal and trustworthy, Spite the ferret is a cunning, bloodthirsty thief, Gunnar the giant sloth is slow and patient, and a brief encounter with a wolverine guard... well, you just don't want to mess with wolverines.
  • Badass Bookworm: Lyra starts out as a bookworm and then becomes one of these.
  • Badass Normal: Sadrao, although a seven-foot-tall anthropomorphic dog, does not possess any magic, supernatural powers or demonic blood. He is however, extremely badass.
  • Bad Powers, Bad People: Justified in the sense that standard magical power is most easily gained by unscrupulous and distasteful means such as human sacrifice and ritual bloodletting. It's not hard to believe that the people who are willing to do this to get power are generally not nice people.
  • Batman Gambit: Trent's tragic backstory and demure personality are all real, but are only parts of his True Self. The repression of his darker and crueler nature are engineered by the Big Bad in an attempt to lure his enemies into a sense of false security.
  • Berserk Button: Sadrao, calm and polite, loyal to a fault. Then you decide to harass his charge...
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Sadrao.
  • The Big Guy: Sinai.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: Trent is this, one way or another, through the whole story. Before the story begins he was made into a good version of himself by his father to put others off their guard. Then, once his father recaptures him, he turns him into a pure evil version as a fit successor. In the end Lyra restores his true personality, but in the process realized that she never actually knew him.
  • Bond One-Liner: Averted. After their first fight, Sadrao says "Well, that was invigorating!". Lyra, instead of some witty remark, just throws up.
  • Broken Bird: Sinai.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Learning Kuroinu's true name and the revelation that the Kytha is actually Summon Magic saves Lyra's life in her battle against Trent, when Lyra summons her to defeat his demon. Lock-picking in House of Diamonds is this too, but then the entire reason that Sadrao makes Lyra practice it is because it will be of use later. When she is kidnapped by slavers, she escapes via lock-picking.
  • The Chick: Jacyl, and the forgettable girl rescued from the evil magician.
  • Combat Pragmatist. Vernon comes up with something most people forget about furry combatants, specifically, their teeth.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: The Hero's personal growth from the start of the series to the finish is one of the main focuses. She starts off naive and helpless and gradually grows into a competent adult that can more than take care of herself in the real world.
  • Conveniently Unverifiable Cover Story: Trent's backstory.
  • Cool Big Sis: Jacyl to Lyra.
  • Cool Sword: Sadrao's Mohenja and the sword Kuroinu started a huge marketplace disturbance to steal.
  • Corrupt Church: There's a theocratic town with at least three of these.
  • Culture Clash: The girl they rescue unwittingly flaunts all Funny Animal forms of politeness, by cringing away from their touch, showing her teeth when she smiles and laughs, and trying to intervene in a battle for dominance.
  • Death Seeker: Sinai.
  • Didn't See That Coming: Lyra summons Kuroinu in her demon form while chained and at Vade's mercy, and her captor is throttled.
  • Dragon Ascendant: Trent.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Sinai uses the last of her strength to charge Vade while riding a water demon horse. Spite takes out a truly terrifying Giant Flyer
  • Our Elves Are Better: To the point of other races considering them snooty and xenophobic. We don't get to see much of them, though.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The true forms of demons are deeply alien.
  • Eternal Sexual Freedom: Averted. Two of the main cast are in a lesbian relationship, and Lyra, who was bought up conservative, is somewhat uncomfortable. Also, one of the partners actually thinks to ask Lyra if she's okay with it.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Trent, towards the end.
  • Fantastic Racism: Many people distrust non-humans, and at some locales, they're outright persecuted. The first real inn that Lyra and Sadrao stay at is a crappy one where the bartender gives them a room for a much higher price than what might have been asked of a human.
  • Five-Man Band
  • Freakiness Shame: Kuroino is well aware of just how eldritch demons are. Lyra acknowledges that, but still finds her true form beautiful in an alien way.
  • Funny Animal: Anthropomorphic animals are commonplace, and even humans are implied to be anthropomorphic monkeys.
  • Gambit Pileup: The Big Bad's Evil Plan to manipulate Trent's personality into becoming crueler and more evil (by repressing all his good and gentle qualities) backfires on him when the newer, eviller Trent creates a plan of his own to usurp the Big Bad and cause him to be killed by his own demon.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Averted thoroughly. After Trent rapes Lyra, she uses her Kytha to not only abort the baby, but sterilize herself to keep it from ever happening again.
  • The Hero: Lyra.
  • Half-Human Hybrid:
    • While most of the characters are more Funny Animal than Half-Human Hybrid, Trent is a half-elf and Kuroinu is explicitly stated to be a demon hybrid. The half part is debatable, from both directions. On the one hand the ancestry is different, on the other it appears that any offspring of a demon may well be a demon, regardless of the mortal half.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Vade.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Gunnar and Spite.
  • If You Ever Do Anything to Hurt Her...: Sadrao to Trent, about Lyra. This is more serious than most versions, since Trent is the son of Vade, and Sadrao doesn't trust him and is justifiably worried that the whole thing might be some dark scheme.
  • Instant Expert: Learning the Kytha allows this with regards to martial arts and certain kinds of magic. Justified in that it's actually revealed to be a type of Summon Magic, empowering the user with spirits who have those skills and abilities.
  • Kick the Dog: While a lot of metaphorical dog-kicking goes on, kicking the dog without a reason is seen as something that only the weak and incompetent do. The really bad people will only kick the dog if it serves a purpose.
  • The Lancer: Sadrao.
  • Laughably Evil: Many "evil" mages are stated to be so ostentatious and overly concerned with appearance that the main threat they pose is inflicting their poor taste upon their victim's fashion sense.
  • Magical Abortion: Lyra isn't putting up with Mandatory Motherhood, no sir.
  • Mandatory Motherhood: Averted by Lyra Volfrieds when she is impregnated by Trent. Vade's plan was to have a great legacy and a powerful bloodline, and impregnating Lyra was just part of his plan. Her response to this when she found out was to use the Kytha to abort the unborn child and then to sterilize herself to prevent him from just trying it again.
  • Mook Chivalry: Averted; even a skilled soldier like Sadrao has trouble taking on three bandits, especially when they attack at once.
  • Official Couple: The narrative makes no secret that Lyra and Trent are going to get together. Except that this gets subverted in the second book. It turns out that the Trent they knew had actually had his personality altered by his father to put them off his guard, and then he has Trent Reforged into a Minion. By the end of the novel Trent has raped Lyra and, though she restores his true personality, she never actually knew him. She actually winds up with Kuroinu.
  • Orphan's Ordeal
  • Our Demons Are Different: They are Lovecraftian horrors, stretching into dimensions unknown, possessing bizarre body parts, with no two being exactly the same. And somehow they can breed with humans.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: For one, they're extinct. Their closest living relatives are a race of Half-Human Hybrid types that have a friendly relationship with the standard Asian people.
  • Papa Dog-Soldier: While Sadrao isn't Lyra's father, he certainly cares about her like he was.
  • The Phoenix: The heroes encounter the last one (but with phoenixes, how can one really be sure?) in a swamp.
  • Religion of Evil: There are quite a few of these.
  • Reconstruction: The story parodies traditional heroic antics with a heavy dose of Reality Ensues. But then the characters do the same things, noting the complications and succeeding with planning and preparation.
  • The Smart Guy: Trent.
  • Tap on the Head: Lyra whacks a bandit over the head, and succeeds in... pissing him off.
  • Take a Level in Badass: After learning how to harness the Kytha, Lyra becomes much more dangerous.
  • Unfazed Everyman: Lyra.
  • Virgin Power: Subverted with virgins being susceptible to the illusions of unicorns, which in this story are filthy, scavenging mongrels that would rather eat a virgin than rest its head in said virgin's lap.
  • You All Meet in an Inn: Lyra and Sadrao meet up with future party members in inns on two occasions. The first time, Sadrao was actually looking for them.


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