Zhukov’s Dogs was quite a surprise: an indie that was well written, engaging, nuanced, and even had an interesting romance. The plot flowed smoothly and organically, without being overly complicated or people acting out of character just to push a plot. Best of all, our lead is not bound by morality or conventions – he’ll kill an innocent or fall for another guy without feeling the need to sermonize or agonize forever about it (take that, Katniss). He’s a product of the society and written that way.
Story: Nik lives in an America that has been ravaged by environment decline; a new ice age that has turned North America into the arctic. The government survives through tight control, creating enforcers called dogs who ensure peace across what remains of the country. Nik is a dog in the youth section; bred to do the government’s dirty work and not think twice about those decisions. But when he is sent to underground Seattle to ferret out a resistance group, he’s going to find something much more than he bargained for: his humanity.
I initially chose to read Zhukov’s Dogs because it is a YA dystopian with a male/male romance. Fortunately, author Cyr eschewed a lot of conventions in all those genres by giving us a romance without graphic sex or overly assured intentions. Nik and Val make an interesting pairing that grows organically though admittedly quickly (it does veer a bit close to insta luv). What I respected and appreciated is that both our leads recognized the signals of attraction and didn’t play dumb that it was happening. Right off the bat, Nik knew Val was interested. It just worked nicely.
The story is told through both flashbacks and present tense as Nik relates his experiences after being captured and believing Val is dead. As his story unfolds, so to do we get to see how the events in the past led up to the situation in which he now finds himself.
The side characters of the revolutionaries weren’t necessarily developed since this is a very fast paced and smooth read. It’s a story you start and just don’t stop. There are no lags (though there are lulls so it isn’t non-stop action). For this reason, I would love to see the story continue and build upon what has been written so far.
As noted earlier, our characters aren’t good people necessarily. Author Cyr resists the temptation to make Nik too good – it simply wouldn’t make sense to have a killer who suddenly decides he has too many morals to kill. But that is also a trigger for some readers who have to have sparkling shiney knights of perfection in dark worlds.
It’s honestly rare to find a really good dystopian or M/M themed romance, especially in the indie sector. This is one of them; I really had so many other things to do but just couldn’t put it down once I started. It was that good.
I am very glad I purchased this and highly recommend it.