My Favorite 2018 (Fictional) Dogs

In one of the lightest moments of Robert B. Parker’s Valediction (just before one of the darker), Spenser describes his reservation about the first two Star Wars movies: “No horses . . . I don’t like a movie without horses.” After watching Return of the Jedi, he comments that it was a silly movie, but “Horses would have saved it.” Which makes me wonder what he’d have thought about The Last Jedi. Horses aren’t my thing, it’s dogs. I’m not quite as bad as Spenser is about them — I like books without dogs. But occasionally a good dog would save a book for me — or make a good book even better. I got to thinking about this a few weeks back when I realized just how many books I’d read last year that featured great dogs — and then I counted those books and couldn’t believe it. I tried to stick to 10 (because that’s de rigueur), but I failed. I also tried to leave it with books that I read for the first time in 2018 — but I couldn’t cut two of my re-reads.

So, here are my favorite dogs from 2018 — they added something to their novels that made me like them more, usually they played big roles in the books (but not always).

(in alphabetical order by author)

  • Edgar from The Puppet Show by M. W. Craven (my post about the book) — Edgar has a pretty small role in the book, really. But there’s something about him that made me like Washington Poe a little more — and he made Tilly Bradshaw pretty happy, and that makes Edgar a winner in my book.
  • Kenji from Smoke Eaters by Sean Grigsby (my post about the book) — The moment that Grigsby introduced Kenji to the novel, it locked in my appreciation for it. I’m not sure I can explain it, but the added detail of robot dogs — at once a trivial notion, and yet it says so much about the culture Cole Brannigan lives in. Also, he was a pretty fun dog.
  • Rutherford from The TV Detective by Simon Hall (my post about the book) — Dan Groves’ German Shepherd is a great character. He provides Dan with companionship, a sounding board, a reason to leave the house — a way to bond with the ladies. Dan just felt more like a real person with Rutherford in his life. Yeah, he’s never integral to the plot (at least in the first two books of the series), but the books wouldn’t work quite as well without him.
  • Oberon from Scourged by Kevin Hearne (my post about the book) — Everyone’s favorite Irish Wolfhound doesn’t get to do much in this book, because Atticus is so focused on keeping him safe (as he should be). But when he’s “on screen,” he makes it count. He brings almost all of the laughs and has one of the best ideas in the novel.
  • Mouse from Brief Cases by Jim Butcher (my post about the book) — From the moment we read, “My name is Mouse and I am a Good Dog. Everyone says so,” a good novella becomes a great one. As the series has progressed, Mouse consistently (and increasingly) steals scenes from his friend, Harry Dresden, and anyone else who might be around. But here where we get a story (in part) from his perspective, Mouse takes the scene stealing to a whole new level. He’s brave, he’s wise, he’s scary, he’s loyal — he’s a very good dog.
  • Ruffin from Wrecked by Joe Ide (my post about the book) — Without Isaiah Quintabe’s dog opening up conversation between IQ and Grace, most of this book wouldn’t have happened — so it’s good for Grace’s sake that Ruffin was around. And that case is made even more from the way that Ruffin is a support for Grace. He also is a fantastic guard dog and saves lives. His presence is a great addition to this book.
  • Dog from An Obvious Fact by Craig Johnson (my post about the book) — I might have been able to talk myself into ignoring re-reads if I hadn’t listened to this audiobook (or any of the series, come to think of it) last year — or if Dog had been around in last year’s novel. Dog’s a looming presence, sometimes comic relief (or at least a mood-lightener), sometimes a force of nature. Dog probably gets to do more for Walt in this book — he helps Walt capture some, he attacks others, just being around acts as a deterrent for many who’d want to make things rough on Walt. Walt couldn’t ask for a better partner.
  • Trogdor from The Frame-Up by Meghan Scott Molin (my post about the book) — Honestly, Trogdor probably has the least impact on the book than any of the dogs on this list. But, come on, a Corgi names Trodgor? The idea is cute enough to justify inclusion here. He’s a good pet, a fitting companion for MG — not unlike Dan’s Rutherford. He just adds a little something to the mix that helps ground and flesh-out his human companion.
  • Mingus from The Drifter by Nicholas Petrie (my post about the book) — Like Trogdor, a great name. Like Mouse and Dog, a great weapon. He’s really a combination of the two of them (just lacking Mouse’s magical nature). He’s vital in many different ways to the plot and the safety of those we readers care about. Petrie made a good move when he added this beast of a dog to the novel.
  • Chet from Dog On It by Spencer Quinn (my posts about Chet) — If I couldn’t cut Dog, I couldn’t cut Chet. Listening to this audiobook (my 4th or 5th time through the novel, I believe) reminded me how much I love and miss Chet — and how eager I am for his return this year. This Police Academy reject is almost as good a detective as his partner, Bernie, is. Chet will make you laugh, he’ll warm your heart, he’ll make you want a dog of your own (actually, all of these dogs will)
  • Zoey from Deck the Hounds by David Rosenfelt (my post about the book) — how do I not invoke Tara when discussing an Andy Carpenter book? Good question. It’s Zoey that brings Andy into the story, it’s Zoey that helps Don to cope with his own issues, it’s Zoey that defends Don and saves him (in many ways). Sure, Tara’s the best dog in New Jersey, but Zoey comes close to challenging her status in this book.
  • Lopside from Voyage of the Dogs by Greg van Eekhout (my post about the book) — It almost feels like cheating to bring in a dog from a novel about dogs — conversely, it’s hard to limit it to just one dog from this book. But Lopside the Barkonaut would demand a place here if he was the only dog among a bunch of humans — or if he was surrounded by more dogs. He’s brave, he’s self-sacrificing, he’s a hero. He’ll charm you and get you to rooting for these abandoned canines in record time.
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PubDay Repost: Smoke Eaters by Sean Grigsby

yeah, yeah I told you that I’d get this up last week, but writing while hacking isn’t that easy. Yes, I’m a hack writer, but that means something totally different.

Smoke EatersSmoke Eaters

by Sean Grigsby

eARC, 384 pg.
Angry Robot, 2018

Read: February 2 – 3, 2018

Really, the case for you (or anyone) reading this book is simply and convincingly made in 13 words:

Firefighters vs. Dragons in an Urban Fantasy novel set in a futuristic dystopia.

I’ll just wait here while you open another tab to put in your order. There’s really nothing more that I need to say, is there? What if I throw in robot dogs?

Since you’re here anyway, I’ll talk a little more about the book. In the early 22nd century, dragons show up (technically, come back) and everything changes over night — cities burn, non-urban areas burn, geography changes, societies change, political/governmental realities change. And so on. Where there are dragons, there’s fire; and where there’s fire, there are firefighters. A special division of firefighters soon develops — Smoke Eaters — who specialize in dragon fighting, while the rest take care of fires, saving lives and property, etc. You know, the basic everyday hero stuff.

One such hero is Captain Cole Brannigan. After decades of fighting fires, he’s a week away from retirement when disaster strikes and he finds himself without his air supply in a dragon smoke-filled room, which it turns out that he can breathe. Which means he’s one of a select few people naturally immune to the stuff and is basically pressed into service as a Smoke Eater. Instead of commanding a squad and their respect, he’s a trainee — worse, a trainee who used to be a fire fighter. I’m not really sure I get the level of antagonism that exists between the two groups, but it’s pretty intense. No one respects his expertise, his experience, his perspective. He’s tolerated at best — and that’s really only because of the whole smoke immunity thing.

I cannot stress how much I enjoyed this dynamic — stories about someone learning their way through a new reality, or new abilities, etc. are a staple of the genre. But a fully-realized adult, in a long-term, stable marriage (as stable as they can realistically come), successful already and sure of his place in the world being thrown into a new situation like this is unique. Cole spends as much time fighting his instincts about assuming leadership roles (and assuming people will follow) as he does trying to understand his new teammates and duties. Naturally, his perspective and experience will prove important to understanding a new challenge facing the Smoke Eaters.

I’m not going to get into everyone else, because this is Cole’s story, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s the most interesting character (he probably is, though, your mileage may vary). The rest of the characters aren’t quite as well drawn — mostly because we see everyone through Cole’s eyes — but most are close enough that you don’t notice.

I should probably mention that when he’s not writing about fire-breathing lizards, Grigsby’s an actual firefighter. So he knows his stuff — when he says fire behaves a certain way, it’s not because he’s read a lot about that or watched Backdraft a few dozen times (well, both of those may be true, but neither is the primary reason he can say that fire behaves a certain way). The authenticity about this kind of thing shines forth and adds a layer of reality to this novel. He knows guys just like Cole — and probably most of the other firefighters and Smoke Eaters — he knows the devastation that fire leaves behind (both to structures and people), and what it takes to keep pressing on in the face of that.

There is a lot more that I want to try and cover, but this is one if those books that if I said everything I wanted to, it’d take a week to write and an hour to read – so let me wrap this up (man, I didn’t even talk about Grigsby’s Canada…the book is worth a look just for that). This is full of action, and some of the ways a gentleman of Cole’s age keeps up with the action are pretty smartly conceived, but there’s some thinking involved, too. Still, you’ll be kept leaning forward in your seat. It’s a good story; with great, developed characters; a wonderful concept; all executed like a seasoned pro was behind it all. There are some little details that will make you chuckle as you read them (the misunderstandings of barely remembered 20th century culture, for example). Smoke Eaters is going to be one of the best UF reads you find this year.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from the good folks over at Angry Robot via NetGalley in exchange for this post and my honest take on the book — thanks to both for their generosity and this rockin’ read.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Smoke Eaters by Sean Grigsby

yeah, yeah I told you that I’d get this up last week, but writing while hacking isn’t that easy. Yes, I’m a hack writer, but that means something totally different.

Smoke EatersSmoke Eaters

by Sean Grigsby

eARC, 384 pg.
Angry Robot, 2018

Read: February 2 – 3, 2018

Really, the case for you (or anyone) reading this book is simply and convincingly made in 13 words:

Firefighters vs. Dragons in an Urban Fantasy novel set in a futuristic dystopia.

I’ll just wait here while you open another browser tab to put in your order. There’s really nothing more that I need to say, is there? What if I throw in robot dogs?

Since you’re here anyway, I’ll talk a little more about the book. In the early 22nd century, dragons show up (technically, come back) and everything changes over night — cities burn, non-urban areas burn, geography changes, societies change, political/governmental realities change. And so on. Where there are dragons, there’s fire; and where there’s fire, there are firefighters. A special division of firefighters soon develops — Smoke Eaters — who specialize in dragon fighting, while the rest take care of fires, saving lives and property, etc. You know, the basic everyday hero stuff.

One such hero is Captain Cole Brannigan. After decades of fighting fires, he’s a week away from retirement when disaster strikes and he finds himself without his air supply in a dragon smoke-filled room, which it turns out that he can breathe. Which means he’s one of a select few people naturally immune to the stuff and is basically pressed into service as a Smoke Eater. Instead of commanding a squad and their respect, he’s a trainee — worse, a trainee who used to be a fire fighter. I’m not really sure I get the level of antagonism that exists between the two groups, but it’s pretty intense. No one respects his expertise, his experience, his perspective. He’s tolerated at best — and that’s really only because of the whole smoke immunity thing.

I cannot stress how much I enjoyed this dynamic — stories about someone learning their way through a new reality, or new abilities, etc. are a staple of the genre. But a fully-realized adult, in a long-term, stable marriage (as stable as they can realistically come), successful already and sure of his place in the world being thrown into a new situation like this is unique. Cole spends as much time fighting his instincts about assuming leadership roles (and assuming people will follow) as he does trying to understand his new teammates and duties. Naturally, his perspective and experience will prove important to understanding a new challenge facing the Smoke Eaters.

I’m not going to get into everyone else, because this is Cole’s story, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s the most interesting character (he probably is, though, your mileage may vary). The rest of the characters aren’t quite as well drawn — mostly because we see everyone through Cole’s eyes — but most are close enough that you don’t notice.

I should probably mention that when he’s not writing about fire-breathing lizards, Grigsby’s an actual firefighter. So he knows his stuff — when he says fire behaves a certain way, it’s not because he’s read a lot about that or watched Backdraft a few dozen times (well, both of those may be true, but neither is the primary reason he can say that fire behaves a certain way). The authenticity about this kind of thing shines forth and adds a layer of reality to this novel. He knows guys just like Cole — and probably most of the other firefighters and Smoke Eaters — he knows the devastation that fire leaves behind (both to structures and people), and what it takes to keep pressing on in the face of that.

There is a lot more that I want to try and cover, but this is one if those books that if I said everything I wanted to, it’d take a week to write and an hour to read – so let me wrap this up (man, I didn’t even talk about Grigsby’s Canada…the book is worth a look just for that). This is full of action, and some of the ways a gentleman of Cole’s age keeps up with the action are pretty smartly conceived, but there’s some thinking involved, too. Still, you’ll be kept leaning forward in your seat. It’s a good story; with great, developed characters; a wonderful concept; all executed like a seasoned pro was behind it all. There are some little details that will make you chuckle as you read them (the misunderstandings of barely remembered 20th century culture, for example). Smoke Eaters is going to be one of the best UF reads you find this year.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from the good folks over at Angry Robot via NetGalley in exchange for this post and my honest take on the book — thanks to both for their generosity and this rockin’ read.

—–

4 1/2 Stars