The Dawnhounds

Update: This review has been corrected for pronouns because the “About the Author” section in the book is out of date. I have a sneaking suspicion that I should have known this, but I’m old and the memory is not what it was. Anyway, I’m now even more happy that I loved the book.

Sometimes the influences on a book can be fairly obvious. On reading The Dawnhounds you will likely be quickly reminded of China Mièville’s New Crobuzon. The book has the same mad alchemical science that fuses technology and biology. Where Mièville has his Remade, Sascha Stronach has Blanks. Equally the book draws something from Jeff Vandmeer’s Ambergris, because mushrooms are a key part of the biotech. The other obvious major influence is Star Trek: Discovery, because like the Discovery, Stronach’s world has a spore drive.

This is not intended as a criticism. Lots of science fiction books have warp drives, for example, and many of them are set in cities that are reminiscent of William Gibson’s Sprawl. But New Weird as a sensibility is harder to pull off. It is less familiar, more gruesome. You have to work at describing the setting and the technology. Stronach is brave enough to attempt this, and good enough to succeed.

The book has an interesting history. Back in 2020 there was a Worldcon in New Zealand. Thanks to COVID, very few of us were able to attend. Stronach presumably did as she lives in Wellington. Indeed, she is Māori. At that convention, The Dawnhounds won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Novel. That’s the New Zealand national awards. They are not normally a path to publishing success. But fellow Kiwi, Tamsyn Muir, has been championing the book, and maybe she had a hand in Simon & Schuster picking it up for wider publication.

Thematically, the book could easily be about the UK in 2024. The city of Hainak is going through a difficult time. The current government is doing badly in the polls. Our central character, Yat Jyn-Hok, has joined the police hoping to do something good for the city, but she quickly discovers that the police exist mainly to protect the powerful from the poor. Worse still, they look down on anyone who breaks social norms by, for example, being gay.

Here’s a quick example of the social message of the book:

“Folks like us? We die often, in the quiet places, and nobody talks about it because to those who decide things, we barely even count as people. We only matter when we’re keeping their factories running, when we’re filling their pockets. If we stopped working for them, we would hold no value in their eyes.”

As for Yat, technically she’s bisexual, but she can’t resist a pretty girl, and for the social conservatives that’s enough:

They’d always been looking for defects in her, as if women were defective men, and women who loved women were defective women who loved men. As if anybody who loved both wasn’t a part of the equation and could be sorted into one or the other without their consultation. She would never be good enough, because she wasn’t the person they wanted her to be.

There are two other significant characters in the book. Sargeant Yit Kanq-Sen is an older, working class policeman who has taken Yat under his wing, hoping to protect her until she can curb her naïve idealism and honesty. Fans of police-themed TV series will doubtless recognize the character.

In addition we have Sibbi, the lesbian pirate captain. There is definitely a lot more to her than meets the eye. The world of The Dawnhounds has a complex religious system with many animal-themed gods. The government of Hainak is run by the Crane Cult, and birds do their bidding. Yat, who loves climbing, has been noticed by Monkey. Sibbi, being a pirate and a lesbian, fights against the government, yet she too is a devotee of Crane. But then Sibbi seems to have had a very long life. She knows what it means to get involved with the schemes of gods.

Yat, of course, is young and naïve, but she’ll learn. After all, she hasn’t died even once yet.


I really enjoyed this book, and wisely Stronach has left a lot of the world unexplained. There’s a sequel due out in August. I will be pre-ordering it.

book cover
Title: The Dawnhounds
By: Sascha Stronach
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Purchase links:
Amazon UK
Amazon US UK
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