Dogs of the Deadlands by Anthony McGowan (illustrated by Keith Robinson) #BookReview #BlogTour


Chernobyl, 1986. The world is coming to an end. Dragged from her bed in the middle of the night and forced to leave her beloved puppy behind, Natasha has no idea if she’ll ever return home.  
Growing up in the shadow of the ruined nuclear power plant, pups Misha and Bratan need to learn how to live wild – and fast.  Creatures with sharp teeth, scythe-like claws and yellow eyes lurk in the overgrown woods. And they’re watching the brothers… 
But will the dogs survive without humans?  
And can humans live without them?

It's such a pleasure to be hosting the blog tour for Dogs of the Deadlands these days. Many thanks to Anthony McGowan, Rock the Boat and Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me and for sending me a gorgeous copy of the book.

From White Fang to Watership Down, Black Beauty to Tarka the Otter, The Animals of Farthing Wood to Charlotte's Web; books with animals as the main characters have long enthralled, excited and broken the hearts of their readers. Dogs of the Deadlands joins this rich seam of literature and surely deserves to become a timeless classic too.
Although the Chernobyl disaster is the reason why Natasha becomes separated from her beloved new puppy, Zoya – her one blue and one brown eye indicating this Samoyed also has a little touch of the wild in her – this isn't a book about the accident. However, it is the catalyst for all that follows, providing an intriguing background to a storyline where dogs who were once pets were forced to try to survive alongside their wild counterparts in an inhospitable, lethal world where humans have all but disappeared. The initial parting is heartrending, perhaps even more for the reader than for Natasha as we know it isn't just going to be for a few days. Dogs of the Deadlands would make a wonderful class read but it's only fair to warn school staff that there are some highly emotional scenes throughout the book so you may want to have a box of tissues to hand!
Although parts of the novel follow Natasha as she grows up and examines how the loss of her pup changes her as she gradually loses hope, the bulk of the action takes place away from humans. We're given brief insights into how Zoya survived those early days but this is really Misha's story, beginning when he and his malformed brother, Bratan are the only survivors of their litter. Anthony McGowan never patronises his young readers with long explanations or heavy information, with this being a subtle but powerful indication of the birth defects and neonatal deaths caused by radiation poisoning. As the pups grow they experience important life lessons and the dramatic scenes of peril are complemented by the day-to-day pressures of finding enough food to survive. There is humour to be found here too, with their first savoury soup meal sure to amuse and disgust in equal measure!
While some animal stories anthropomorphise their characters, Anthony McGowan takes care not to make his too human-like. There is no dialogue in these parts of the book; the animals communicate through eye-contact, licks and nips. Misha and Bratan learn from their mother but as they become adults their natural instincts come to the fore too and it's their heritage which leads to the most frightening, exciting scenes. 
There are some brutal, heartbreaking moments in Dogs of the Deadlands; this is nature red in tooth and claw and not all the animals survive. It is a book for children and those who enjoy gripping, atmospheric adventures will love it but it's worth pointing out that the superbly crafted plot doesn't hold back from exploring just how transient life in the wild can be. However, there are moments of joy, courage and hope too and anybody who has ever loved a pet will weep with recognition as the bond between animal and human is described beautifully.
Dogs of the Deadlands is an absolute gem of a book; children over ten will love it but so too will adults, whether they share it with younger readers or read alone. The sense of place is wonderful, the characterisation perfect and the plot is utterly compulsive from start to finish – expect this to be read under the covers after lights out! Keith Robinson's gorgeous front cover and striking illustrations that capture all the emotion and excitement deserves high praise too. This is a raw, poignant and evocative novel and I can't wait to recommend it to the children I work with. Just stunning! 

Dogs of the Deadlands is published by Rock the Boat, part of Oneworld Publications. Purchasing links can be found here but please support independent bookshops whenever possible.

Follow the blog tour, details are below.

About the Author
Anthony McGowan is one of the most widely acclaimed young adult and children’s authors in the UK. His books have won numerous major awards. In 2020, he was awarded the CILIP Carnegie Medal for Lark. He was also shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal with Rook and won the Booktrust Teenage Prize and the Catalyst Award for Henry Tumour. His YA novel The Knife that Killed Me was made into a critically-lauded film in 2014. Anthony lives in London, with his wife, two children and dog.

About the Illustrator
When Keith was small he was desperate to get to Narnia. He had a habit of walking into other people’s wardrobes, which must have been awkward for his parents. Eventually he discovered the next best way of travelling to other worlds was to lose himself in drawing them.
Keith loves illustrating children’s fiction. Getting lost in a good story and expressing the characters, setting and atmosphere through drawing is still the best kind of escapism he knows. It also means he no longer feels the need to walk into wardrobes. His work is informed by a love of nature, myth and history, all of which can be found in abundance where he lives, on the Devon-Dorset border. The beautiful landscape of the West Country, the stunning scenery of the Jurassic Coast and the wilds of nearby Dartmoor provide a constant source of inspiration. When Keith isn't working he enjoys hiking, camping, beach-combing, playing the guitar and rummaging through second-hand book shops.
Keith lives with his wife and two children in a woodland cottage near the seaside town of Lyme Regis. He works from his studio in the garden. Everyone else calls it a shed but he insists that it’s a ‘studio’.


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