Anthony McGowan’s main focus in Dogs of the Deadlands is to tell the story of two dogs, Zoya and her son Misha and their lives, following the Chernobyl disaster. The human involvement around Natasha Taranova is woven in but comprises a relatively small part of the story.

The story begins on Natasha’s seventh birthday when she receives her dream-come-true birthday present, a puppy she names Zoya. Zoya is mostly Samoyed, but not purebred. Her father thinks she has a touch of wolf in her. That night the explosion at Chernobyl occurs and in the morning Pripyat is evacuated but no one is allowed to take their pets. Natasha is devastated to lose Zoya. Initially, the evacuation is expected to last a few days, but it soon becomes clear it will be a very long time before people are allowed to return. Zoya is rescued by an old woman named Katerina who lives alone in the forest growing medicinal herbs. Her unusual lifestyle has given rise to rumours that she is a witch. The story then skips ahead to Zoya being the mother of two puppies, Misha and Bratan but she now lives in the forest where the struggle for survival is constant.

Dog owners would relate to the emotional bond between owners and pets. However, as a non-pet owner, I found the story improbable. Natasha is deeply affected by the loss of Zoya as a puppy but I expect her grief is complicated by the loss of her home, friends, school and her parents’ struggle to cope with their losses. Yet, the focus is on her grief over losing Zoya after owning her for barely 24 hours.

Overall, I found the story violent. The brutal animal attacks are graphic and disturbing because the animals are given human personalities.

Thanks to the Book Curator for providing a free copy for review.

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