Thursday, May 14, 2015

Dog Days (Dog Days #1) by John Levitt

Mason makes a living filling in with different bands as a jazz guitarist in San Fransisco.  With his dog which is quite a dog Leo by his side, life has settled into a comfortable routine.  Sure he could be doing more with his magic and even more with his career but at the end of the day Mason is just too damn lazy to put in the effort.  To play jazz, one has to be able to improvise and instead of learning the real fundamentals of magic and honing his skills, Mason simply improvises - that is until he meets someone runs afoul of a fellow practitioner who has decided to gain power at all costs.

Dog Days is a pretty steady novel but for an introduction to a series, it was really lacking in giving us a good feel for the world. We learn that each practitioner is born with varying degrees of magic and some of them are lucky enough to get a familiar (read ifrit) as a companion. We know that they have a series of governing bodies and that they use a check and balance system to ensure that they don't end up with a practitioner that is overly strong.  That's essentially it for the world building.  It's beyond basic.

Even the plot line is very basic.  There are no real twists and turns to the story and I feel as though that really made the antagonists decision to go after the less than earnest Mason underwhelming at best.  I just didn't buy his motivation.  In the end, it all came down to Christoph wanting Mason's ifrit and that he simply didn't like Mason.  We are told almost in passing that Leo is special but it is never really explained how or why.  In fact, though the ifrit are everywhere in this story we don't know anything about them beyond the fact that each has some kind of special power and is bonded to a particular practitioner.  Yep, that's a pretty massive plot hole. 

Levitt made a real effort to be inclusive with Dog Days; however, all the marginalized characters read like cardboard cut outs.  The two women characters are interchangeable love interests and victims. Naturally, being women, their special powers involve healing and you guessed it empathy.  I wonder if their power comes oozing out of their ovaries? There was never any doubt that one of them was going to die but Levitt double downed and dumped the other into the plot box for later in a manner which made absolutely no sense.  If someone had tried to kill you on several occasions, murdered someone you cared about before your very eyes, as well as attempted to murder a beloved pet and you respond by taking their life in self defense that doesn't make you a killer.  The idea that Mason is now suddenly a killer and an unfit match for a healer is ridiculous.

The major GLBT character in this story is Victor who is a powerful practitioner, super wealthy, head of the enforcers and of course has an impeccable eye for fashion and all things classical.  Victor apparently goes through men on a rotating monthly basis but has finally found love with Danny. If Levitt had not included a GLBT character while setting his story in San Francisco of all places I certainly would have been rolling my eyes; however, at times, Victor feels like another card board cut out, particularly because he is described as "Prissy. Bitchy. The perfect gay neighbour on a bad sitcom."

There's also the issue of what Mason thinks about love between two men.
I have to admit I've never truly understood how a man can be in love with another man. Attracted, sure, why not, but with the kind of emotion that brings either wild joy or abject despair? I don't get it.  Sure, I do intellectually, but not really, not in the heart, not where it count. (pg 48-49)
What's to get? One man meets another and after spending time together, they develop feelings?  It's really not that hard. Despite Mason following up by claiming that he cannot understand how women can fall love in love with men, his commentary regarding Victor and Danny is thinly veiled homophobia at best. To add insult to injury, Danny never gets developed and simply disappears after seeing Victor do some magic.  Victor doesn't take time out to chase after the man he loves or even think to deeply about it because he has Christoph to to deal with and the threat to Mason's life. It doesn't make sense to me that Levitt was so emphatic about Victor being in love with Danny and then having Victor have absolutely no response to losing the man he loves.

In terms of race, we have Eli who is six feet four and close to two-sixty.  Naturally, Eli is a former offensive lineman but not to worry, it was only his ticket to pay for his university education.  Eli is a practitioner who coached Mason as a child and since then has acted as Mason's mentor.  Yes, yet another trope.  Eli works as a university professor and is constantly bringing up esoteric facts at the most inopportune moments.  That makes Eli into a double trope if you think about it.   I probably could have lived with Eli's portrayal if it wasn't for the following.
Eli had been an offensive lineman in college. He hated football; it was just his ticket to an education.  Now he was a full history professor at USF and, being a proud African-American, naturally had specialized in European history, specifically the late Middle Ages. (page 44)
Do I need to elaborate the problems with this characterization?

I cannot say that I am disappointed in Dog Days because from the beginning it was clear that it would be short on creativity.  I simply plodded through it killing time until I could get to a more exciting book.  At best, Dog Days is meh.  It won't turn your brain to mush but it most certainly is not a page turner which will keep you up at night.  It's a book to pick up if you're killing time and only if you get it at a local library.  Spending money on it would be a mistake.  I think that Levitt was trying to channel Harry Dresden and simply missed the mark.