Dystopian stories take many forms, but it’s a rare dystopian novel that prominently features man’s best friend. Author of the Oversight and Stoneheart trilogies, C.A. Fletcher doesn’t hide the importance of dogs in his latest novel. Aptly titled , it follows a young boy named Griz as he goes on a journey to retrieve his stolen pet.
“Dogs were with us from the very beginning,” Griz writes. “And those that remain are still with us now, here at the end of the world.”
Griz’s world is a broken version of our own. An event known as The Gelding has devastated the world’s population so much so that only thousands—not billions—of humans survive. The Gelding is never fully explained, but the havoc it wreaked has isolated pockets of people, like Griz and his family, so much so that seeing an unfamiliar human being has become a rarity.
That’s why Griz and his father, mother, and two sisters are apprehensive when a man named Brand sails up to their home, which is on an island off the coast of what was once Scotland. With the promise of trade, they cautiously embrace Brand. However, Griz wakes up one morning to find Brand’s characteristic red sails bobbing away on the sea—along with some of their supplies and one of his beloved dogs named Jess. Griz, along with his other dog Jip, go after Brand to rescue their four-legged family member.
The young Griz doesn’t remember what life was like before The Gelding, so the world outside of his home island is a foreign one. This creates a slow start to the novel, albeit one rich with discovery. 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 dives deep with his descriptions of the world, which has been ravaged by destruction, decay, and general abandon:
It was one of the old buildings, a large farmhouse that had been added to over the years, so it sprawled expansively when compared with the other island houses. The walls had once been whitewashed but now little of that remained, so it was a gray house with a dark slate roof and intact glass windows that seemed to watch me approach up the old drive. A car had rotted to the axles and stood amid the long grass by the back door as if waiting to pounce. The door was not as easy to open as it had been when we visited three years before, but I was bigger now and managed to kick it open carefully enough that it would sort of close after us when we left. I left it open as I waited for the dogs to scramble ahead of me and put any waiting rats to flight.
Despite the bleakness of his surroundings, Griz’s naive curiosity about the world comes off as optimistic and hopeful. However, the effect starts to wear off after the reader has spent the first third of the novel alone with Griz and Jip, with only the former’s descriptions for fuel.
But Griz’s journey to rescue Jess eventually becomes harrowing, full of unexpected human and animal visitors and challenges posed by the unforgiving remains of the world. A French woman who claims her name is “John Dark” accompanies him for part of his journey—which includes a terrifying scene in which our protagonists get jumped by wolves—and becomes the source of one of the book’s tear-jerk moments. Plenty of surprises await once the reader gets over the slow hump at the beginning, but Griz’s determination and humanity are mainstays throughout.
Griz’s sense of humanity and loyalty clearly separates him from other humans who seem to have lost theirs—even while those strangers claim to be on a righteous path.
His loyalty to his furry family members is refreshing, particularly given the post-apocalyptic setting and brutal nature of those he meets on his quest. In the latter third of the book, Griz’s sense of humanity and loyalty separates him from other humans have lost those instincts—even while they claim to be on a righteous path. Fletcher uses characteristics like this to infuse with hope rather than sorrow, something that most dystopian novels cannot boast.
contains two big reveals, and one of them may be polarizing because it’s framed as a revelation. I won’t spoil either here, but the polarizing reveal, while integral to the final fourth of the novel, doesn’t change much about everything readers learn previously. This notion, which turns out to be false, needed to be established early on in the story, but it amounts to a shrug when the truth actually comes out. However, the second revelation introduces an intriguing character dynamic into the final chapters, making them even more complex and exciting than what came before.
You may very well expect some twists in a long book about a mysterious world. While I’m going to err on the side of not spoiling those, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that this twisty stuff pays off in the form of one juicy character dynamic. This makes up for another moment that is framed as a capital-R Revelation but falls a bit flat.
While some may think the novel’s ending is a too-neatly tied bow, it brings together some seemingly random, disparate parts of the story. If you’re a fan of post-apocalyptic stories that barrel forward at breakneck speed, isn’t for you. But anyone interested in character-driven stories that highlight our collective humanity and place a healthy emphasis on our relationship with dogs, C.A. Fletcher’s novel will be a breath of fresh air.
A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World