A Feral Darkness is hands down my favorite of Doranna Durgin’s books. There are a lot of elements to it that might file it into the paranormal romance or urban fantasy genres, though for my money, I would still call it a straightforward fantasy. Romance it’s got, to be sure, but quieter and sweeter than most current paranormal romances do. Neither is it urban; if anything, it’s more like suburban/rural fantasy.
When she was nine years old, Brenna Fallon sacrificed her hair in desperation to the god Mars Noden, hoping to save her dying dog. The dog mysteriously lived for many years after, and Brenna acquired both an uncanny knock with all dogs as well as a head of miraculously long hair. Now, she’s a dog groomer stuck in a shopping center pets store, frustrated to no end with her job, puzzled by the stray Welsh Cardigan Corgi she discovers at the site of her childhood sacrifice, and troubled by the recurring rumors of a feral wolf pack in the area–and recurring impressions she has of voices warning of a strange new mutated rabies virus. Soon enough, she learns that what’s going on has its roots in an assault carried out on the spring where she’d made her prayer, and now she must try to raise Mars Noden’s power again to counteract the darkness that assault has raised.
I like every single thing about this book, pretty much: Brenna’s talent with dogs, the suburban/rural setting, the male lead Gil Masera and his Basque background, and the romance that blooms between him and Brenna. Their chemistry is a lovely, subtle thing, exemplified by a scene where he takes the time to comb out her incredible hair for her, and it never needs to rely on blatant statements of sexuality or graphic love scenes. In other words, exactly how I like it. And, the Celtic influence on the magic at hand is nicely understated, as is the challenge it puts to Brenna, who must figure out how to reconcile it with her Christian upbringing.
The biggest win in the story though is the dog Druid, who walks a balanced line between being insanely cute, believably canine, and an effective participant in the plot. Durgin’s own experience with dogs and horses shines through beautifully in Druid’s characterization, all throughout the book. Make no mistake, Druid is every bit as much a character as Brenna, Gil, and the rest of the humans in the cast.
This is Durgin at her best, a book I have re-read multiple times now. It came out in 2001, though, so it might be hard to find; if you can grab a copy from a used bookstore, though, I highly recommend it. Especially if you’re a dog lover. Five stars.