Just finished reading this last night and it far exceeded my expectations. I started reading it because I’ve been working on this bibliography of literary books about dogs. It turned out to be one of the best fantasy novels I have read in years. I am reminded of the first time I read the Forgotten Bests of Eld by Patricia McKillip, many, many years ago.
McKinley somehow takes a bunch of standard fairy tale tropes (beautiful kingdom with a beautiful king and queen who have a beautiful daughter who needs to marry, but who resists the arranged marriage, etc.) and makes it all new and original. This is a dark, psychological novel about a young woman who grows up neglected and alone, except for her dog Ash. After a brutal attack, she and Ash escape to heal their physical and psychic wounds in the wilderness. Eventually, they return to civilization and try to learn how to trust and interact with humans again.
While they are aided by magic, this by no means makes their recoveries any less difficult or harrowing. I think that must be one of the things I like so much about this book, is that McKinley doesn’t condescend to her characters. Also, McKinley honors the dog-human bond and without totally anthropomorphizing the dogs.