By Diana Wynne Jones
Greenwillow Books, 1975
Dogsbody is a children's fantasy novel, although some libraries may place it in the YA or adult sections, presumably because it uses the word 'bitch' for a female dog and does not avoid the subjects of dogs in heat or the sometimes incestuous relations within the canine world. Despite these aspects, it is a fairly inoffensive book, and is generally suitable for middle school children.
The story starts, somewhat abruptly, with the murder trial of the star Sirius, one of the more powerful stars in the local cluster. He is convicted of assault and murder, but because the evidence is circumstantial, and because he is Quite Important, he is banished rather than sentenced to death. For reasons that are initially unclear, he is banished specifically to the planet where the murder weapon, a quite valuable and powerful unit of elementary force, is suspected to have landed. This planet is Earth.
Surprisingly, especially to him, he is reincarnated not as a human but as a newborn puppy. It takes him a good amount of time to figure this out, however, as he has the limited mental capacity and overriding instincts of this new form. As he ages he slowly starts to recognize that he is more than a dog, and that he had better start doing some detective work if he does not want to live his entire life as a lower being.
But for a large part of the novel, this is the story of a puppy and young dog making it in a human's world. After he is almost drowned as a puppy and rescued by a young girl, he learns how to live with the confusing humans and their mean-spirited cats, and generally goes through all the things that any young dog in every kids book or movie ever goes through.
This is a fairly odd story; the first five pages, dealing with the celestial trial, are a bit confusing, and then we transition almost immediately into puppyhood. Things settle down quite quickly, and we spend a good chunk of the book reading a somewhat stereotypical story of a young puppy adopted by a foster child, and suffering the troubles that always come to those at the very bottom of the pecking order. And then Sol starts talking to him, and he starts remembering about mysterious star matters, which remain somewhat confusing right to the very end.
Overall this is a pretty good read. Diana Wynne Jones is a good writer, and while this is perhaps not her best work, it does remain engaging and entertaining. After the first four chapters of amusing but somewhat hackneyed puppyhood, it starts to develop into a fantasy/murder mystery, and is comparable to Jones' other works in terms of character development, mythology, and plot. I personally found it a bit depressing as a young teenager, and still find it a bit of a downer in my old age, but that's okay, you can just pick up another Dianna Wynne Jones book to cheer yourself back up.
Accelerated reader points: 5.1