Sam Angus’s début novel is likely to be a success, due to its action-packed narrative, the author’s skill in capturing emotion and, perhaps most significantly, because her chosen subject matter – animals in battle – has proved to be popular in children’s literature and film in recent years. Although the title, plot and theme are decidedly reminiscent of Michael Morpurgo’s epic War Horse, Angus manages to carve out a refreshingly unique perspective on the traditional animal war story, thereby adding an original contribution to the canon.
The story relates the trajectory of Stanley, a teenage dog-handler who finds himself working with the British Messenger Dog Service in the trenches during World War One. The writer shows her flair for creating nail-biting action sequences full of thrill and suspense, but unfortunately diminishes these moments of excitement at times with an excess of extraneous war-based detail which may distract some readers from the flow of the story. On a whole, however, the plot moves forward at a good pace and the characters, both canine and otherwise, are very engaging. Unlike War Horse, the narrative ofSoldier Dog is offered exclusively through human eyes, thus avoiding any hint of humanisation or anthropomorphism of its animal protagonists. The dogs and their relationship with the humans around them are not over-sentimentalised, but are instead infused with courage, honour and loyalty – qualities which are central to any good war story. Through this realistic portrayal, Angus succeeds in demonstrating the significance of the role of dogs in the war, as well as the intricacies and limits of the human-animal relationship.