Saffron is not your average American teenager. She's pretty, she's smart, her parents are needy, her brother's a jerk, but unlike her classmates, Saffron has just started life number 102. And only the first of these, when she lived as Emer Morrisey, a 17th-century Irish girl turned bloodthirsty pirate, was a human life. The rest were all dogs.
The book begins in the 1600s with a chain of death on a Jamaican beach--Emer's true love is killed by a Frenchman who wants to possess her, the Frenchman is killed by Emer, and Emer herself is killed by the Frenchman's first mate. But before he kills her, he curses her:
"You will see!” he yelled, jumping from the brush, “You will see how true
love lasts! You will see how real love spans time and distance we know nothing
He rushed forward then, and shook a small purse toward her. From it, came a
fine powder that covered Emer’s hair and face. She reached up and wiped her eyes
“What are you at?” she asked, spitting dust from her lips.
He stood with his arms and face raised to the night sky. “I curse you with
the power of every Spirit who ever knew love! I curse you to one hundred lives
as the bitch you are and hope wild dogs tear your heart into the state you’ve
left mine!” He began chanting in a frightful foreign language."
And the treasure that was to be Emer's passport to a peaceful life was left buried there, while she began her long cycle of death and rebirth.
Now that she is human again, she has one goal--to shake off the neediness of her family and get down to Jamaica to find her treasure again. But the beach where the treasure is buried is being watched by Fred Livingstone, a warped man haunted by his own dark ghosts, and the past and present collide when Saffron begins to dig.
Within the book are three separate narratives. There is the story of Saffron's American childhood and quest to reclaim her treasure, told in the first person with bits of very bloodthirsty piraticalness coming through from time to time (an engaging YA type narrative). There is the story of Emer, a girl whose life was destroyed in Oliver Cromwell's invasion of Ireland, and who ends up, after a path of victimization, a bloodthirsty pirate (dark historical fiction-strong stuff, not for the faint of heart). And there is the third story, telling the truly unpleasant thoughts of Fred Livingston, middle-aged real-estate tycoon (neither YA nor historical fiction). Things are complicated by the interjection of vignettes from Emer's various dog lives.
In short, this is a challenging book--there is a lot happening, and it is not immediately clear how all the pieces fit together (although they do in the end). The moment I read the last page, I wished I had someone to discuss it with. I myself found the Saffron/Emer shared identity not as fully explored as I would have liked (the trauma of Emer's past seems to be deeply buried in Saffron's mind), and it's not clear what the experience of being one hundred dogs did for her. Each of the dog vignettes must be there for a reason, but reading the book the first time through, I was too caught up in the exciting plot to stop and think. So I think I shall go back and read Saffron's story arc and the dog bits again, now that I Know...
Here is the excellent Dust of 100 Dogs website, and here are some other blog reviews, at Jen Robinson's Bookpage and Bookshelves of Doom, and a trailer at The Compulsive Reader.