The Empty City: Survivors #1
by Erin Hunter
The launch of Erin Hunter's (Warriors; Seekers) new page-turning Survivors series stars an unforgettable cast of canines in a world nearly devoid of humans (or "longpaws," as the dogs refer to them).
The prologue foreshadows things to come, as a Mother-Dog relates the story of "the Storm of Dogs" to her pups. In the story, Earth-Dog, who's jealous of Lightning, believes it's time for him to die so that she may take his life force. But Lightning is too quick for her, which results in the first battle, the Storm of Dogs, "when all the dogs of the world" fight for control of all the world's territories. Earth-Dog sends a "Big Growl to open the ground in front of him," but the Sky-Dogs help Lightning escape. Mother-Dog warns that legends say "The Storm of Dogs will come again."
Lucky, a golden-furred sheltie-retriever mix, awakens to realize that he'd been dreaming of his Mother-Dog's story. It acts as almost a premonition. Moments later, the Big Growl hits the "Trap House," where he and others are held in cages. Lucky has always prided himself on surviving as a Lone Dog, ever since he escaped a cruel longpaw. But he finds himself indebted to Sweet, a fellow captive in the Trap House. Sweet helps set Lucky free. All of the others died in the Big Growl. But Sweet longs to be back in a pack, and Lucky wants to go it alone, so they part ways.
Readers will enjoy decoding Lucky's names for things. The "Big Growl" reveals itself via the deep chasms in the earth and the tremors that continue for days. Food and potable water are scarce, and electrical cords writhe like snakes. Lucky thinks he's hit the jackpot when he discovers a longpaw mall and runs into a friend, Old Hunter. But even Old Hunter guards his food supply, allowing Lucky only a small portion in return for saving his life (from one of those errant electrical cords) before sending him on his way.
In that same mall, with his coveted food in tow, Lucky meets up with a pack and is reunited with his litter sister, Bella, who begs Lucky to join them. Lucky hesitates. These are Leashed Dogs, dogs that belonged to longpaws. They've never done anything for themselves. How can he take on the responsibility of teaching this entire pack how to hunt and survive in the wild? At the same time, how can he leave Bella to perish? He'll help them get settled and then continue on his way, he decides.
Erin Hunter sets up a tantalizing tension between Lucky's wild instincts and his loyalty to his litter sister and her band of domesticated friends. Through his eyes, we see the devastation of the earthquake: houses abandoned, urban streets shattered, toxic waste leaking into the water. Lucky wishes the Leashed Dogs would wise up, and tries to help them see that their longpaws will not return. Yet he also understands that this is the only faith they have.
Lucky believes in the Earth-Dog, from the stories his Mother-Dog told him as a pup. The Earth-Dog and the Sky-Dogs' spirits rule his destiny, and because his needs have been met time and again, he believes they are watching over him. It's a great source of strength to a Lone Dog seeking food and shelter. Just when Lucky feels like giving up on the Leashed Dogs, their various breeds' traits see them through, as they begin to rely on their instincts. At one point, Martha, a Newfoundland, saves the hefty bulldog Bruno from a river's forceful rapids.
But the sheltered dogs also trace a food source to an unsafe area and approach longpaws with longsticks (guns). They have so much to learn! Will Lucky ever feel confident enough in their abilities to leave them? Or will his affection for the pack and his sense of responsibility to them outweigh his desire for autonomy? This first volume wraps up with a pleasing resolution and leaves the door open for the canine survivors' further adventures. Hunter lays the groundwork for a world in which these thoroughly likable characters must let go of their bonds to their longpaws and move toward a Pack strategy of cooperation, and shared physical strengths, experiences and resources in order to exist in this new world. --Jennifer M. Brown