Review: The Dawnhounds – Sascha Stronach
by Sascha Stronach
Series: Against the Quiet #1
Publisher: Gallery / Saga Press
Publication Date: June 14, 2022
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
A police officer is murdered, brought back to life with a mysterious new power, and tasked with protecting her city from an insidious evil threatening to destroy it.
The port city of Hainak is alive: its buildings, its fashion, even its weapons. But, after a devastating war and a sweeping biotech revolution, all its inhabitants want is peace, no one more so than Yat Jyn-Hok a reformed-thief-turned-cop who patrols the streets at night.
Yat has recently been demoted on the force due to “lifestyle choices” after being caught at a gay club. She’s barely holding it together, haunted by memories of a lover who vanished and voices that float in and out of her head like radio signals. When she stumbles across a dead body on her patrol, two fellow officers gruesomely murder her and dump her into the harbor. Unfortunately for them, she wakes up.
Resurrected by an ancient power, she finds herself with the new ability to manipulate life force. Quickly falling in with the pirate crew who has found her, she must race against time to stop a plague from being unleashed by the evil that has taken root in Hainak.
I don’t even know how to begin describing this book. It’s like mashing a noir detective novel with a queer pirate fantasy and adding in a dash of horror. It’s weird and sort of wonderful and while parts didn’t work for me, the ones that did worked really, really well. While this is the first in a series, enough is resolved to give it a very satisfactory ending.
Yat lived on the streets of Hainak after the death of her father, and joined the police force with the lofty goal of helping other kids like her. In reality, she’s been demoted for getting caught in a raid at a gay bar, feels demoralized by the corruption in the ranks, and lives paycheck to paycheck because of self-medicating with drugs to deal with her anxiety and PTSD. But after stumbling on a corpse and getting shot in the head, she mysteriously wakes up at the same place she died, with a strange new ability to sense the threads in all living things. She quickly realizes that something is wrong in Hainak. With the help of a pirate crew, her mentor on the force, and a very crooked cop, it’s up to Yat to stop a destructive force that’s been thousands of years in the making.
“Easier to just assume everybody was out to get you than assume otherwise and have them prove you wrong. If you accepted that the world would let you down, you could protect it without being surprised when it stung.”
Yat is a prickly sort of character. Scarred physically and mentally from the events of her childhood, she’s reluctant to let anyone get too close to her, whether that’s her mentor Sen or the stray cat that likes to visit her window. She’s beaten down by the various inequities of the city and the police force, but she still has a spark of trying to do the right thing. Hainak is her city, warts and all, and she loves it. A good chunk of the book revolves around the religious persecution of queer people (Yat is bi, and there are other gay and sapphic couples in the book) and how that’s affected the way she lives, the daily fear she lives with, as well as the company she eventually falls into. There’s a good collection of secondary characters as well, who all feel like their lives intersect with Yat’s but aren’t fully encompassed by the narrative. They have their own lives, needs and wants, as opposed to just existing to further Yat’s story. The chief among these is Sen, Yat’s mentor, who is the second POV character and a general world-weary cop who just wants to keep the “kids” – the new younger cops – safe. Sibbi, the pirate queen, was fun as well, and there’s several tantalizing hints about her past and the future scope of the next book.
“There is a pool at the roof of the world where the roots drink deep; the water has gone sour, and so the tree dreams in darkness. In the shadow of a mad iron god, my daughter lies dreaming.
Come here, little bird; somebody has broken you, but there is work to be done.”
The world building is original and fascinating, from the mushroom-based living houses to the magic system to the way the gods interfere and interact with the characters. It also takes bioterrorism to a whole new level. Building with metals is seen as unpatriotic, and alchemy, as it’s called, can be used to grow entire buildings or new limbs – or weapons like bullets that can literally burrow into your skin. However, it also caused some issues for me, as you’re dropped straight into the world without much reference. It took me about a third of the book before I finally felt like I had an idea of what was going on and was actually interested in the plot. The author is from New Zealand and there’s bits of Maori sprinkled throughout, so perhaps being more familiar with Kiwi geography and culture would’ve helped there.
“Funny how it’s monstrous to protect what’s yours, but only if a hero decides they want it. Funny who gets to call themselves a hero, too.”
There’s a lot of interesting big ideas in the book, enough that some aren’t as well developed as they should be. One of the ones I particularly liked was how the narrative plays with the idea of heroes, especially as it relates to law enforcement. It doesn’t hesitate to show the systemic corruption, how the characters themselves are complicit, and even has a creepy analogue to prison labor. But it also shows how the actions of a few, even those that society sweeps aside as being not enough or beneath notice, can make a difference.
Overall, this is a hard book to rate. It’s unique and engrossing in some ways, but it’s also uneven and hard to get into. So 3.5 stars, mostly because I’ll definitely be checking out the next book in the series.
Content notes: View Spoiler »homophobia, biphobia, violence (including murder and guns), body horror, drug addiction, references to suicide, death of a parent (before book starts), grief, PTSD, anxiety « Hide Spoiler