Sunday 1 December 2013

REVIEW: The Rats 3 - Domain, by James Herbert (3.5*)

(New English Library, 1985)

"The man-made caverns shuddered but resisted the unleashed pressure from the world above.  Sections collapsed, others were flooded, but the main body of tunnels withstood the impacts that pounded the city. 
And after a while, the silence returned.
Save for the scurrying of many, many clawed feet."

Is anyone actually going to read this review?  Possibly not, because unless you've read the first two books in the Rats trilogy (The Rats and Lair) you're probably not going to rush out to read the third!  But I'm going to talk about it anyway...  So, the first book dealt with a plague of giant black rats with a taste for blood, rampaging through London.  The second placed the descendants of these rats, four years later, in Epping Forest, with a similar outcome.  Domain is rather different; it opens with a devastating nuclear strike on London that shatters the city, kills most of the population and drives the survivors underground out of the reach of the nuclear fallout that follows.  Meanwhile, in the tunnels under the city, those pesky giant rats have been hiding, multiplying and biding their time...

Our hero this time around is a rugged helicopter pilot called Steve Culver.  He drags a stranger - a man named Alex Dealey, who just happens to be a government agent - out of harm's way during the strike, and en route to the official shelter Dealey knows to be nearby, also saves a young woman, Kate, from the earliest ratty carnage in the tunnels of the London Underground.  Naturally, she and Steve develop an interest in each other, and Dealey's connections prove helpful...  so far so obvious.

What I wasn't expecting was for the focus to be so political.  It's quite a departure from the previous formula of 'unsuspecting person attacked - another unsuspecting person attacked - escalating carnage - investigation - crisis - resolution'.  In fact, given the whole 'nuclear holocaust' thing, the rats are fairly low down on the characters' list of problems, at least until much closer to the end.  A lot of the plot is given over to the ramifications of the attack - avoiding the nuclear fallout, government provision for survival, scoping out the remains of the city, attempting to communicate with other official shelters across London - rather than to the ratty menace. 

Of course, as the novel goes on the rats' presence definitely increases.  A horrific scene inside the government shelter (one of those where you literally can't imagine how it can end well for ANYBODY) paves the way for a group of survivors to return to the surface, where there is more scope for interaction with other people as well as encounters with the rats.  From this point the pace is much quicker, the chapters more brutal, and the double climax arrives with a satisfying dose of adrenaline-fuelled horror.

Although I'm not a huge fan of political thrillers and relentlessly bleak adventure stories, I enjoyed this trilogy finale, mostly because of the dystopian premise and the closer focus on a larger cast of key characters than Herbert perhaps felt the need to offer in the previous two installments.  I did think at times that a glimmer of hope might have been nice - there were moments when it felt like I was reading my way through a nightmare.  One of those where you KNOW there's no way out and no matter how hard you try the predators are going to get you in the end.  Mentally I occasionally wanted to do the inevitable 'give up, turn and face the bad guys, then at least I can wake up' thing.  Buuuut I kept going, because unlike a nightmare, the end was going to come eventually, and I wanted to know how the hell this little group were going to defeat the rats, and what had become of England on a wider scale after London was destroyed...  I'm glad I finished up the series, even if this third book was a bit of a departure from the previous two!

Notable Quotables:
  • "She should have paid more attention to the news...  Miriam recalled hearing something on the radio about tension in the Middle East; but she'd been hearing that for years and years.  It didn't mean anything any more.  It was just news, words, items read out by smooth-voiced young men and women.  It had nothing to do with shopping at Tesco's and washing dirty sheets and spoiling grandchildren and living in Chigwell.  And nothing to do with her."
  • "The sun's fierce rays sucked up moisture from the Thames, so that it looked as if the water were boiling.  Somehow it appeared to him that here were the intestines of the city's torn body, exposed to the light and still steaming as all life gradually diminished.  Masts of sunken, ancient boats, those that had been converted into smart bars and restaurants, jutted through the rolling mist.  Pleasure boats, their surfaces and passengers charred black, drifted listlessly with the current, the longboat funeral pyres of a modern age."

Source:  I bought this book from a seller on Amazon Marketplace.