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Book Review: The Dawnhounds by Sacha Stronach

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Youth Engagement Coordinator Peone Logo reviews The Dawnhounds, its Sci-Fi-meets-Kiwiana vibe, and all the amazing ways in which this book represents Aotearoa

I ruminated for a long time on what made The Dawnhounds such a strange book to read. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until I read Tamsyn Muir’s review on the same book which really hit the nail on the head. It’s science fiction, but category is Aotearoa New Zealand. The characters are people you recognise but are given that science fiction polish. The slang is familiar, “yeah nah”, yet the characters will have biotech enhancements that make their skin impenetrable to bullets. Housing and the cost of living is still very much unaffordable, but the houses are made of fungi that resemble those cute red spotted cottagecore mushrooms.

The book enters a kind of uncanny valley where this fantastical world is filled with oppressive Crane Gods and blood thirsty pirates. But suddenly your Events Coordinator could be an immortal pirate attempting to overthrow a totalitarian regime, and your Youth Services team leader is a kaitiaki rarunga (priestess) for Ngā Tangata o te Pātengi Raraunga (the people of the database) turned pirate who is single-handedly guarding the whakapapa of her people.

Dawnhounds follows Constable Yat, a former street rat who is dying a death of a thousand cuts. The bureaucracy of the police force and the totalitarian regime that runs it is turning her life up to a slow boil and she the frog is cooking to death in the pot. But luckily for her death is not the end.

Blessed with powers by the Monkey God she is thrust into a war between the evil cult of the Crane God, the ‘bin chickens’, and the rest of the dying pantheon.

With nowhere else to turn she joins a band of queer pirates each of whom have similarly been blessed by the pantheon of Gods that inhabit this world.

Yat doesn’t fall into your typical category of female Sci-Fi heroine. She’s not particularly quippy nor is she a Mary-Sue. Instead, we get a bisexual mess who is constantly straining under the weight of doing what’s right while simultaneously representing a system that actively oppresses her. The result is a protagonist who is sensitive and lonely and completely without pretence.

When people say they want diversity and representation in literature this is what they mean. There’s no virtue signalling, people just are.

10/10, 5 stars, 100% on Rotten Tomatoes house down boots.   

With thanks to Harper Collins New Zealand for providing an advance review copy of the book.