Domain by James Herbert saved (my) book group… I know it sounds slightly bizarre, but it’s true – Domain saved book group. Ten years ago, for some now unknown reason, we (book group) decided to read ‘A Brief History of Time’ by Stephen Hawking. After the month was up no-one had finished it and the meeting was delayed by a week; once this further week was up another extension had to be issued as everyone was still struggling to finish the book. Book group was still in its infancy back in April 2004, having started the previous September, and people’s interest was starting to flounder because of the book choice. After another week we called an emergency meeting in order to choose another book that would be easy to read and likely that most people would enjoy. As a group we decided that we needed a ‘trashy’ horror story and that’s how we came to read Domain – not only is Domain about giant killer rats, but it is also set during and after an apocalyptic nuclear attack on London. Everyone read it, everyone loved it, Domain saved book group!
I decided to re-read Domain after realising that it was ten years since I had read it, so it seemed quite fitting that that I went back to it. Originally, I read all three books in The Rats trilogy, back to back, during May 2004; this time round I just read the third instalment. Even though Domain is a sequel to both The Rats and Lair, it can be read as a stand-alone novel with very little reference to the previous books. I remembered enjoying the book so much when I first read it that I was, to start with, a little nervous that it wouldn’t live up to my high expectations. My nerves however were unfounded as I enjoyed it immensely. I had forgotten a lot of what happens throughout the book so the twists and turns the novel takes were still surprising.
The story opens as air raid sirens start to wail all around London, very soon after 5 nuclear bombs are dropped and detonated across the city. Within the melee that ensues, the main character helps to save another person who then leads him to an underground government bunker. The action goes on from there, but I won’t go into any more detail than that. The opening section of the book really is excellent, the subject matter has clearly been researched well and this is found hidden in the author’s description of the nuclear war that is ravaging the city. The book opens with such pace and frenetic action the reader is swept quickly into the story with barely a moment to take stock of what is actually happening. By the time the first human encounters the rats, you are so engrossed with everything that has already happened to the characters that your own sense of plausibility is thrown out of the window and you are prepared to believe in the fiction.
There are many things within this book that I really enjoyed. The novel is about the rats, however, it is more about the nuclear destruction and how people deal with life in its aftermath. Parts of the book follow some of the characters into the city several weeks after the bombs have fallen, the devastation that they then witness is quite numbing. The book also cuts away from the main characters on a couple of occasions and tells the story of others caught by the holocaust and their demise.
Domain is sometimes scary, often gory and gruesome, and very action packed throughout; there are very few parts of the book when characters are not under immediate threat. There were moments during the narrative when I was genuinely on edge, unsure where the story was going and what would happen to the characters. I have described Domain as ‘trashy horror’; this for me is not derogatory. There is a place for this type of novel and just because it is trashy doesn’t mean that it is not good – Domain really is an excellent book. The book may not be for everyone and I would suggest that the faint-hearted steer clear; but some people I know that have read the book under duress, who were convinced that they would not like it, did enjoy it. It is a compelling read and well written, the pace of the book allows the reader to get caught up in the fantastical storyline. I would also recommend reading the entire trilogy – James Herbert (in my opinion) left the best until last…