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Literature / Darkeye

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Darkeye is a sci-fi, post-apocalyptic webnovel by Lydia West. It was started in 2013 as a NaNoWriMo project, and completed in 2014. The original draft can be read here.

Told from the point of view of an African wild dog named Mhumhi, Darkeye centers around the efforts of a motley pack of canines to keep two small human children alive. This is difficult, as the story takes place in an abandoned city overrun by different species of talking dogs with a taste for human meat.

It has been published in three volumes:

  1. Wild Dog City
  2. Animal Words
  3. The Starving Heart

Darkeye contains examples of:

  • All for Nothing:
    • No matter what the characters do, they always face the same problems. Like having to eat people.
    • The attempt to bring the children out of the city only to have Maha brutally murdered also counts.
  • Animal Eyes: Sekayi, a bouda, has hyena eyes.
  • Animalistic Abomination: Bouda that get stuck mid-transformation are mildly horrifying.
  • Anyone Can Die: though sometimes it's a Disney Death
  • Bio-Augmentation:
    • The dogs in Darkeye have been genetically modified with human and bird DNA that gives them increased intelligence and the ability to speak. This was originally done to make them cooler pets, but got out of hand.
    • The bouda are hyenas implanted with dormant human DNA until they eventually change shape.
    • The screamers are humans who willingly gave up their intelligence and were modified with dog DNA that gave them an overly-affectionate nature.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Even the best of characters eats other sentient beings.
  • Body Horror: hyena/human hybrids, including one with a working human hand.
  • Carnivore Confusion: Could be an alternate title for the work. (That or Sad Dogs Eating Questionable Meat.)
  • Childless Dystopia: Humans are prevented from having children by other humans. Apparently they get over it eventually.
  • Cold Equation:
    • There's never enough meat.
    • The whole mess started when there was a global food shortage and some cities were cut off from the supply.
  • Cooperation Gambit: Occurs a few times, like when Mhumhi and Kutta decide to pass information on the bouda to the police in order to rescue Maha and Tareq.
  • Crapsack World: see After the End or Dystopia
  • Crossing the Desert: Between the city and the Safe Place.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death:
    • A man gets eaten alive by a pack of dogs, including our main character.
    • Biscuit gets graphically torn apart by Mhumhi and Kutta.
  • A Dog Named "Dog": All canine characters (except the domestics) are named their species name in the language of their country of origin- i.e., "Mhumhi" is the Shona word for "African wild dog."
  • Ear Notch: Hlolwa and Imbwa, the leaders of the police force, have identical notched ears.
  • Escort Mission: Much of the series is spent moving the kids from point A to point B.
  • Fantastic Racism: Any species vs any other species, sometimes down to groups within species (i.e., domestic dog prejudice against the Toy group).
  • Forced Transformation: Vimbo is an intelligent bouda stuck in the shape of a hyena.
  • Formerly Sapient Species: While there are still sapient humans around, they're very rare in the city where the story takes place. Most of them are bouda, who spend their reproductive years as non-sapient spotted hyenas before usually metamorphosing into sapient humans. Some get stuck partway through the transformation, never regaining sapience. Later, we meet the screamers, a human subspecies whose ancestors willingly gave up their sapience to allow themselves to become food for their uplifted dogs.
  • Gaia's Lament: There seems to be nothing left outside the city aside from a barren desert.
  • Gaia's Vengeance: And now there are super-intelligent talking dogs hunting the last humans down.
  • Hourglass Plot: The respective positions of Mhumhi and Hlolwa.
  • Human Pet:
    • The two human children that Mhumhi's family adopts are often referred to in this way. Nzui, an African wild dog, actually mentions that some wild dogs keep humans as pets- for a short time, since they "get impossible to manage once they're older."
    • Some domestics treat their humans more like pets than family members in an ironic twist. Mini refers jokingly to a human studbook, implying that the domestics keep track of breeding lines. Some domestics, like Biscuit, find human euthanasia perfectly acceptable under the right circumstances.
    • This is taken to the extreme with the screamers, which have human bodies but reduced intelligence and a doglike desire to please. Dot, a screamer, ends up more or less being a pet to Mhumhi's family.
      • In the epilogue it appears that dogs have begun domesticating screamers.
  • Human Resources: self-explanatory.
  • Imprinting:
    • Mhumhi's siblings are different species, but grew up together and consider one another family.
    • Mini refers to this as the norm with domestic dogs and humans, expressing despair at the thought that they cannot form families of their own kind anymore.
    • Late in the series, Mhumhi wants to take Hlolwa's puppies and raise them so that they grow attached to Tareq.
  • Inherent in the System: Dogs gotta eat.
  • Interspecies Adoption: Pariah, a domestic dog, stole raised Mhumhi and his siblings of many different species as her own. Later, two humans and a hyena are adopted into the family.
  • Interspecies Friendship:
    • Not just humans and dogs, but hyenas too.
    • Mini the pomeranian and Vimbo the hyena are a dream team.
  • Let's Meet the Meat:
    • As it turns out, the meat the dogs have been eating all along was provided by humans who willingly sacrificed themselves.
    • O, a human from the Safe Place, actually begs Mhumhi to eat her and her companions.
  • Lost Technology: Anything having to do with genetic manipulation. The bouda in particular are unable to separate themselves from their hyena forms, even though it was originally intended to be a short-term solution to breeding restriction.
  • Metamorphosis: The bouda, a group of otherwise ordinary hyenas that sometimes spontaneously turn into humans.
  • Nature Is Not Nice: Dog eat dog world, literally.
  • Nearly Normal Animal: The canines in Darkeye can talk and have human-level intelligence, but still behave like dogs.
  • Nightmarish Factory: The dispensaries, particularly the bouda dispensary.
  • No Party Like a Donner Party: Lamya tells Mhumhi that humans started sacrificing themselves to feed their starving companions. This turns out only to be partially true.
  • Predator Turned Protector: Subverted in the case of Maha and Mhumhi.
  • Post-Apocalyptic Dog: Technically every canine in the story.
  • Raised by Wolves: Maha and Tareq, two human children, have been raised by various dogs for most of their lives.
  • Resentful Guardian: Mhumhi is initially quite unhappy about caring for Maha and Tareq.
  • Scavenger World: And yet somehow the toilets still work.
  • Scenery Gorn: Our heroes spend time in such lovely places as a decaying city, a sewer, and a garbage dump.
  • Sibling Team: Mhumhi, Kutta, and Sacha. (Even though they're actually unrelated to one another.)
  • Sixth Ranger: Vimbo, while initially appearing somewhat aggressive, turns out to be a very gentle and helpful member of the group. Though later he becomes aggressive again.
  • Stern Chase: Mhumhi and co. are constantly on the run from the police. (The dog police.)
  • Talking Animal: Chock full of 'em.
  • The Beforetimes: According to Lamya, cities used to be full of humans! Dogs were their pets! Crazy, right?
  • This Is My Human: Mini and her man.
  • Title Drop: Tareq calls Mhumhi "Darkeye dog" when he, Kutta, and Mini finally reunite with him and Maha while the three dogs are finishing fighting off Hlolwa's police dogs.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: The city's meat dispensaries are filled with human meat.
  • Uplifted Animal: The dogs, of course. Vimbo the bouda sort of counts, and later the story has the screamers, an inversion of the trope: downlifted humans.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Subverted, as the dogs constantly debate whether or not humans can be considered dog. There's also a bit of Moral Myopia in the issue of what's okay to eat and what isn't in terms of how much it looks like you.
  • Xenofiction: Stars various non-humans who, while of human-level intelligence, are very much bound by their species' biology.