First published back in July of 1984, James Herbert’s novel ‘Domain’ formed the third and final full length novel to his classic ‘rats’ trilogy (although a graphic novel entitled ‘The City’ (1994) which followed on with the storyline). The earlier two instalments within the trilogy - ‘The Rats’ (1974) and ‘Lair’ (1979), involved a considerably different premise to that of this final book.
Incorporating a formula that should have guaranteed to produce nothing short of a classic splatterpunk novel from the godfather of the subgenre; not only was Herbert laying down the long-awaited third part to his hugely successful ‘Rats’ series, but he was also once again visiting the post-apocalyptic setting that was so well realised within his earlier novel ‘The Fog’ (1975) - and then later again in his novel ‘’48’ (1996).
It all begins with the unleashing of five nuclear weapons upon the busy streets of England’s capital city of London. With the city now reduced to rubble and the highly toxic fallout dust still in the air, a small group of survivors have found refuge in one of the many underground government bunkers that are dotted around the city.
Steven Culver, a freelance helicopter pilot before the dreaded nuclear conflict, is one of the few lucky survivors to be within the protective underground walls of the bunker. Outside of government personnel and telecommunication maintenance workers, Culver is one of the only civilians to find himself within the bunker’s confines, after helping out Alex Dealey (a government official whose job it is to inspect the bunkers).
Upon locating the secret entrance to the underground bunker, Culver and Dealey encounter a horde of giant black rats lurking in London’s underground subway. Culver manages to help the temporarily blinded Dealey into the safety of the secret bunker, whilst also rescuing the sole survivor of the recent rats' massacre - a young female by the name of Kate Garner.
Inside the bunker, the survivors wait out the following weeks, until finally, once the radioactive fallout dusk would have dissipated somewhat, an exploratory team is sent out of the bunker and into the deserted streets above. What they are greeted with is a world that has been torn apart. The streets that confront them are little more than rubble, littered with the rotting corpses of the dead. The only signs of life are from roaming rabid animals or the dying remnants of people suffering from exposure to the radioactive after effects of the nuclear fallout.
However, lurking in the shadows, with the knowledge that humanity has now been brought to its knees, the giant black rats are ready to take their revenge on those that have oppressed their lives for so long. The black rats are hungry for human flesh once again...
From the very first pages, Herbert throws the reader head first into the chaotic and terrifying final moments before London is hit by a devastating nuclear attack. Herbert switches viewpoint a number of times, showing these final moments through a host of different characters' eyes, until we finally settle upon the two characters of Culver and Dealey. These intense first pages hit the reader like a sledgehammer, setting down the whole apocalyptic scenario with an unrelenting barrage of devastation.
Herbert maintains the pace, unleashing the first of many rat attacks that are equal in scale to those found in the previous two novels. The carnage continues until our principal characters have made it into the relative safety of the underground bunker, where the novel sadly begins to lose its driving thrust. When the exploratory team first look upon the ravaged streets of London, Herbert paints a haunting post-apocalyptic picture that screams at the reader with an eerie and tense atmosphere. However, with this over, the ensuing flooding of the bunker simply drags on, with page after page of supposedly desperate action that ultimately begins to veer towards the dull and monotonous. The rat attacks, although each one is utterly savage, somehow begin to become almost as repetitive as the constant ‘flooding’ scenes. Surprising as it sounds, the novel finds itself at this stage seriously slipping towards becoming an unusually tedious read.
With the numbers of survivors cut down to an easy to handle grouping, Herbert now takes the tale to the ravaged streets of London, which in itself successfully injects a much needed shot of adrenaline into the storyline. Although the threat of the rats is still quite present, Herbert plays more with the post-apocalyptic scenario to bring a new threat to the small survivors - by way of a marauding gang of thuggish survivors, happy to take what they want without any retribution.
The pace once again picks up here, with Herbert stepping on the throttle until the final scenes are acted out within another governmental secret bunker.
One surprising inclusion to the novel is the numerous small short stories (or vignettes if you prefer) that show the final days for a number of unrelated survivors. These miniature tragic tales are snippets of pure post-apocalyptic perfection that are sure to please any fan of the subgenre. One such story details the final days of a loner, who in his very own personal underground shelter, comes to an ironic death. Laced with black comedy, this short tale remains one of the surprising highlights of the book.
Although action packed from the outset, Herbert seems to have lost his nerve for the gut-wrenching nasty moments that were so predominant in his earlier work. The carnage is still there, but of a more watered-down and ‘publisher-friendly’ fashion.
The love interest between Culver and Garner is also a little too wooden and predictable. Although Herbert avoided the inclusion of his usual pointlessly graphic sex scene, the relationship between the two characters is still a bit too cliqued and altogether cheesy.
The final section of the books plays out like a cross between Gregory A Douglas’ novel ‘The Nest’ (1980) and the final sequences from James Cameron’s blockbuster movie ‘Aliens’ (1986). However, Herbert keeps up the pace, delivering a final set of chapters that are sure to keep each and every reader perched on the edge of their seat.
All in all, the novel was set to be another splatterpunk masterpiece from the godfather of the subgenre. However, somewhere down the line, Herbert seems to have lost track of the passion for this work and instead has produced a weaker final installation into the ‘Rats’ trilogy. That said, ‘Domain’ does still deliver a number of impactful scenes and ultimately concludes in a very satisfying fashion.
The book runs for a total of 421 pages.
© DLS Reviews