Warning: Mild spoilers ahead.
Dystopian tales take many forms, but it is a rare dystopian novel centered on man’s best friend. CA Fletcher, author of the Oversight and Stoneheart trilogies, doesn’t hide the importance of dogs in his latest novel. Applicable title A boy and his dog at the end of the worldfollows a young boy named Griz as he embarks on a journey to retrieve his stolen pet.
“Dogs were with us from the beginning,” Griz writes. “And the ones that remain are still with us now, here at the end of the world.”
Griz’s world is a broken version of ours. An event known as The Ruin has so devastated the world’s population that only thousands – not billions – of people survive. The Gelding is never fully explained, but the havoc it wrought has isolated groups of people, such as Griz and his family, so much so that seeing an unknown human being has become a rarity.
That’s why Griz and his father, mother and two sisters are concerned when a man named Brand sails to their home, which is on an island off the coast of what was once Scotland. With the promise of trade, they gently embrace Brand. One morning, however, Griz wakes up to find Brand’s signature red sails bobbing on the sea – along with some of their supplies and one of his beloved dogs named Jess. Griz and his other dog Jip go after Brand to save their four-legged relative.
Young Griz can’t remember what life was like before The Ruin, so the world outside his home island is a stranger. This makes for a slow start to the novel, albeit one rich in discoveries. A boy and his dog is told from Griz’s point of view as he records his story from an unknown point in the future, and Griz spends a lot of time describing what he sees. Fletcher delves deep with his descriptions of the world ravaged by destruction, decay and general desolation:
It was one of the old buildings, a large farm that had been added over the years, so it was expansive compared to the other island houses. The walls had once been whitewashed, but little of it now remained, so it was a gray house with a dark slate roof and intact glass windows that seemed to me to see the old driveway approaching. A car was rotten to the axles and stood in the tall grass by the back door as if waiting to strike. The door wasn’t as easy to open as it had been when we’d been there three years earlier, but I was taller now and managed to kick it open gently enough that it would close behind us as we left. I left it open while I waited for the dogs to clamber ahead of me and send the waiting rats to flight.
Despite the bleakness of his surroundings, Griz’s naive curiosity about the world comes across as optimistic and hopeful. However, the effect begins to wear off after the reader spends the first third of the novel alone with Griz and Jip, using only the former’s descriptions as fuel.
But Griz’s journey to rescue Jess eventually turns harrowing, full of unexpected human and animal visitors and challenges brought on by the world’s unforgiving remnants. A French woman who claims her name is “John Dark” accompanies him for part of his journey – including a terrifying scene in which our protagonists are pounced by wolves – and becomes the source of one of the book’s tear-jerking moments. Many surprises await once the reader gets over the slow hump in the beginning, but Griz’s determination and humanity are the pillars throughout.
Griz’s sense of humanity and loyalty clearly sets him apart from other people who seem to have lost theirs – even as those strangers claim to be on a righteous path.
His loyalty to his furry relatives is refreshing, especially given the post-apocalyptic setting and brutal nature of those he meets on his quest. In the last third of the book, Griz’s sense of humanity and loyalty separates him from other people, having lost those instincts – even while claiming to be on a righteous path. Fletcher uses these kinds of traits to infuse A boy and his dog at the end of the world with hope instead of sadness, something most dystopian novels cannot boast of.
A boy and his dog contains two big reveals, and one of them can be polarizing because it’s framed as a reveal. I won’t spoil it here either, but the polarizing revelation, while integral to the final fourth part of the novel, doesn’t change much of anything readers learn before. This idea, which turns out to be incorrect, had to be established early in the story, but it’s a bit of a shrug if the truth really comes out. However, the second reveal introduces an intriguing character dynamic into the final chapters, making them even more complex and exciting than before.
You can very well expect some twists and turns in a long book about a mysterious world. While I’ll make the mistake of not spoiling that one, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that this twisty stuff is paying off in the form of juicy character dynamics. This makes up for another moment framed as a Revelation with a capital R, but falls a little flat.
While some may think the ending of the novel is too neatly tied arc, it brings together some seemingly random, disparate parts of the story. If you’re a fan of post-apocalyptic stories moving forward at breakneck speed, A boy and his dog at the end of the world is not for you. But anyone interested in character-driven stories that emphasize our collective humanity and put a healthy emphasis on our relationship with dogs, CA Fletcher’s novel will be a breath of fresh air.
A boy and his dog at the end of the world is published by Orbit Books and will be available on April 23, 2019. You can read a longer excerpt from the novel on Orbit’s website.
List image by Orbit Books