The first two books of James Herbert’s Rats trilogy were frightening and grotesque, fascinating for the horror lover in me. However, after finishing Book 2, the concept of flesh-eating rats had gone ever so slightly stale (there are only so many scenes where someone’s eaten to death before it stops being so shocking), so I decided to give the series a break.
I decided to finally pick up Domain, the finale of the trilogy. And wow, does Herbert ramp it up.
“The long-dreaded nuclear conflict. The city torn apart, shattered, its people destroyed or mutilated beyond hope. For just a few, survival is possible only beneath the wrecked streets – if there is time to avoid the slow-descending poisonous ashes. But below, the rats are waiting. They know that Man is weakened, become frail. Man has become their prey.”
The story begins with a devestating nuclear attack on London. This book was published in 1984, and no doubt tension from the Cold War between Russia and the States inspired the premise for this book. Think flesh-eating rats are bad? Try that on top of a nuclear holocaust. Radiation, a destroyed city, and a handful of characters battling to survive.
Culver is our main character, a helicopter pilot with a natural desire to help others fueled by a dark past. Dealey is a government official. Helping each other in the initial attack, they find themselves in a government-operated shelter. Safety is in reach, but that’s not to last, either.
There was a lot I liked about Domain. I loved the brief introduction to characters, a glimpse into their lives before they were killed in the initial attack. Though some may argue that it’s a waste of time learning a character’s names and background right before they perish, I found them to be more interesting than the story’s main characters, almost like Herbert had put more effort into developing them than Culver, Kate, and Dealey, three of the main people of the story.
The despair and dangers of a nuclear wasteland were also marvellously portrayed. Survivors dying of radiation sickness, feral dogs, bloated insects, survivors who have turned to primal violence, and the terrible lack of help or authority figures upon whom they can lean.
A downside of this book is that it could have been about a third shorter without the many “fluff” words that perhaps weren’t as taboo in the eighties – “began to (verb),” a personal pet peeve of mine – appeared over a hundred times in the book, disturbing the prose. “Seemed to” was the second worst offender. However, these aside the prose was lovely, even though sometimes it went on and on and on. The book could have been cut without the wordiness that sometimes caused me to skip pages to find the next scene.
This didn’t ruin the book, though, as there was so much more that was good about Domain than these small offenders that make my inner editor cringe. Though there’s an overwhelming sense of hopeless despair, the book is well balanced with a satisfying ending.
I recommend the first in the trilogy, The Rats, to those who love horror. Since it’s different characters each book, you can really read them in any order. As for Domain, I give it three and a half stars!