1975’s Dogsbody is a stand-alone fantasy novel by Dianna Wynne Jones.
Accused of a murder he did not commit, Sirius must prove his innocence before a court of his fellow stars or face a terrible punishment.
Matters do not proceed entirely to Sirius’ benefit. By the time the novel begins he has already been found guilty, damned by the testimony of his beloved Companion and his own reluctance to explain what really happened. The only question remaining is which particular dismal punishment awaits Sirius.
(cruelty to animals warning)
The court’s decision is this: Sirius’ soul will be removed from the star it inhabits and placed in the body of a mortal being native to Earth. If Sirius can recover the Zoi, the powerful tool used to kill the victim, lost when Sirius cast it away, then he will be restored to his former status. If by the time his dog body dies he has failed to find the Zoi, then he will perish with his new body.
Sirius’ stay on Earth is very nearly extremely short. Installed in the body of a new born puppy, he and his fellow unwanted mongrel puppies are placed in a sack and dropped into a river. Rescued by kind-hearted Irish girl Kathleen O’Brien, Sirius struggles to understand the unfamiliar world in which he must now live.
Kathleen has her own problems. Her mother is dead, her father is a prisoner (following an escape attempt, a dead prisoner) and she herself is Irish in a British household that sees the Irish as a filthy underclass at best and criminals at worst. Taken in by her uncle Mr. Duffield, Kathleen is viewed with profound displeasure by her aunt Duffy despite the fact Kathleen handles most of the household chores herself.
The Zoi fell somewhere on Earth but there is no guarantee that somewhere is in England. Sirius has a nigh impossible task ahead of him, even if he can master language and find allies on this odd little planet. He may not have time. The true killer is on Earth, determined to find and silence Sirius before he can reveal the identity of the murderer.
The cosmology in this is not based in conventional astronomy.
One of the recurring themes in Jones seems to be that just because one loves someone, it does not mean that someone will love you back. In fact, it won’t keep that other person from framing one for murder or from trying their hand at prophylactic homicide. Don’t pick up Jones’ books if you cannot stand horrifying betrayals and a lack of gratitude that would embarrass Prince Felix of Schwarzenberg.
Don’t pick up Jones if you’re looking for a sunny view of people in general. Casual bigotry abounds, with the weak and helpless providing vicious bullies with targets for brutal bullying. Although authority figures might intervene, that’s not the way to bet. Some, like Mr. Duffield, will turn a blind eye in hopes of avoiding personal discomfort, while others, like Duffy, are instigators.
But it is not all bleakness and despair. Occasionally people see the error of their ways, and there are a few (like Kathleen, the Sun, the Moon, and eventual ally Mrs. Smith) who don’t need sudden epiphanies to grasp that bullying is wrong. No guarantee of a happy resolution but at least people will have friends to huddle with.