Domain (James Herbert)

This novel is better in every way than its predecessors and could be read as a stand alone. However, reading all three gives you the ongoing story of the evolution of the Rats and the twists this takes are genuinely shocking. Herbert’s style may be a bit pulpy for some and some of his characters nothing more than stereotypes but like many enjoyable Hollywood films, what it lacks in depth it more than makes up for in high impact thrills. The author has added a little more depth and intrigue to the characters, missing in the first two, this time round.

It’s no spoiler to let slip here that the book is set in a post-nuclear London (the opening of the novel begins in spectacular fashion with the attack itself), and is focused around a group of survivors in the aftermath. The rats themselves hardly appear at all until a fair way into the book, and I’ve often wondered if the novel originally started as a story sans rats, and he later realised here was an opportunity not to be missed, but maybe that’s pie in the sky.

‘The Rats’ and ‘Lair’ seemed tame by modern standards so ‘Domain’ is a definite break from this pattern. And it is full of some fairly extreme violence, so throughout the novel the mood is suitably bleak. If there were an award for ‘most peril faced by protagonists in a single book’, this would be a serious contender. No sooner do the protagonists get themselves out of one scrape then they are facing another – out of the frying pan, into a succession of ever-bigger frying pans, as it turns out. It’s a fairly unrelenting series of set pieces, which some people will hate, but which action-lovers will adore as the pages turn. This is not for the overly sensitive reader. But, needless to say, this is a must read for fans of apocalyptic, gory horror.

It’s a book that doesn’t bother with any build up. Right from the moment you open the book it’s all go. Sirens are blaring and the world is four minutes away from nuclear Armageddon, and you’re swept up and carried along with the panic and the mayhem. The pace slows a little after the opening spectacle but this is mostly a good thing as it gives you a chance to get to know the protagonist and supporting characters a little. Special mention should go to the short stories that are woven through the main plot. They’re all particularly entertaining and help to stop the main narrative from becoming a bit tedious during the periods of inactivity. They’re something that James Herbert used a few times but I think they work best here, particularly the restaurant and the cinema segments. Just as the book feels like it might start to get a bit bogged down, it’s all go again and from this point onwards it hardly stops.

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