Over the past three or four weeks this month, I’ve been reading all three of James Herbert’s books in the Rat Trilogy (well quadruple series If including The City graphic novel). After finding a copy of The City last month I was intrigued to learn more about James Herbert and his fictional works. Luckily enough I found myself a copy of The Rats early this month, and read it in just four days!
For my first ever read of a horror book, it added a sense of chill and visually disturbing imagery of the Black Rats, how they attack their prey with bloody mindless savagery. The wicked, the good, the bad and the innocent are all meals for the rats, as they care not for who or what you are so long as your flesh fill their stomachs.
The series follows the mutated Black Rats who unlike their inferior rat kin, are smarter, cunning, strong and measure at two feet and up to three including their long scaly tail. The Black Rats are not your average pest for they have a certain appetite for human flesh, which they constantly seek to gorge on their endless hunger for more.
A short book that’s more of a novella sized story than a novel, but by no means is it lacking in quality. Set in the 1970’s, the story sees multiple perspectives of the victims that are murdered by the Black Rats, a touch of tragedy in their past life that is all to soon ended by a horrific bloody end.
There is a protagonist of sorts of a teacher named Harris, but he’s not the story’s main focus, but rather the one who has to deal with the pests. Interestingly, the story focuses on the Black Rats as they become incredibly uncontrollable in their bloodlust to the point of mass infestation.
This book was amazingly written, every chapter just wanted to pull you in and watch as the horror unfolds for each victim. Never shying away, James Herbert uses graphic and violent descriptions of the Black Rats attacks to the extreme. With blood and gore being James’s hallmark for the trilogy.
My favourite scene would have to be the underground subway attack, it was brilliantly written and I was on the edge of my seat all the way through the chapter. The combination of the dark tunnel and the rats swarming all over was bloody disturbing.
For a first book publication, this book was a good horror story, maybe some areas could improved (which in the sequel, Lair, James made a worthy successor). Some of the more seedy and lusty stuff may be too much for today’s readers, some parts even felt a slight bit misogynistic. However, because the book was set in its time in the mid 1970’s, it worked as a look back to the culture and lifestyles of the 70’s.
Get this book first if you want to start reading The Rats trilogy. Whilst the sequel books are sort of self contained books in the same cannon, it’s worth reading The Rats first to get a good understanding about the events that take place.
The second book in the series as a sequel to The Rats, Lair moves away from the city of London setting and takes us to the outskirts of the city in the countryside. Once again the mutant rats have bred in mass in their new hiding place in the country side, five years after their defeat during the London outbreak.
Like Ridley Scott’s Alien to James Camerons Aliens, Lair is a successor that amps the horror, violence and narrative of the rats revenge. Not only are the rats more vicious and cunning in their craving for human flesh, but the humans are better written in the story. This time focusing on Luke Pender, an inspector from Ratkill (an organisation who’s goal is to wipe out the mutant Black Rats) who is called upon to investigate reports of rodent sightings in Epping forest.
What’s makes this book so much more interesting is the way James Herbert had crafted his story, the environment and setting is used with great effect when used for setting up the rat strikes. You get the feeling that the forest is itself is fearful of the mutants that have made their Lair in the woodland, killing the natural cycle of nature. For they themselves are not a natural creation, but rather accidentally created by mans selfishness.
My favourite chapter is a tough one, as all the way through the book I couldn’t find much to criticise (well there are certain nitpicks in some areas), even the quieter moments are rather enjoyable to read. However, if I had to choose it would be when Pender finally finds the lair of the rat nest, I won’t spoil it, but I’ve found the whole event to be insightful on the Black Rats function in its nest hierarchy.
I see this book as James Herbert’s best book by far for The Rat trilogy in terms of the way the story was written, engaging and well written characters and far more gruesome ways with the rat attacks.
DomainThe last book in the trilogy, Domain takes a wildly different turn in the series as the situation turns in favour of the now fearful Black Rats. Set years in the not so far future in a time where tensions in the Middle East have escalated to breaking point, London is attached by five ballistic nuclear missiles that wipes out nearly all of London’s population.
However, a few were lucky enough to have survived from the nuclear bombs in time before the fallout could kill them. Unbeknownst to the survivors however, the Black Rats have finally come out of their hiding places sensing a shift in the balance. They aren’t the prey anymore, now they have become the rulers of this domain.
And they seek the fresh taste of human flesh.
The series by now has become too predictable as by now readers will have seen it all. James Herbert could probably tell the series would lose its charm if he kept churning out more of the same story of the rats. So to make this final book go out with a bang (literally) he decided to mix in a post nuclear story for his third and final book.
I think this was a very good choice, as by now the Black Rats has been written to the best that James could write them. Like Alien to Aliens it would be difficult to write a third movie (without interference by the high ups) that could be even better than its previous successor. Making a post nuclear apocalypse gave James much more opportunities to make the rats still a scare factor.
However, parts of the story sadly felt flat especially toward the end, where the story kinda felt same old with the rats. It felt like I’ve seen it all and wanted something fresh and interesting to read. That’s not to say this book didn’t add anything new, the Black Rats hierarchy is explored further with a far more darker revelation about their new leader.
The humans are okay, not stand out as Lair had, some of the characters felt like they were just there to be killed off. Whilst others felt lacking like Jackson and Kate who could have been developed better early on like D.R Reynolds, who had a fascinating chapter explaining how strong she was with her profession and her weakness for her loss.
Two stand out characters were the helicopter pilot Culver and a member of Government Dealey. Both characters are polar opposites who both survived the apocalypse together, tying them in a strange way as close but not close individual. You realise at the end of the story that both characters go through big developments from where they started. Dealey especially has changed from what he’s been through to survive.
The final bomb shell to end the story is a shocker, and was to me in my opinion the main horror point of the story, even the series it’s entirety. As the pieces come together we finally get the full picture as to what the future might be when the Black Rats take over the world.
Overall I think this final book whilst not as good as Lair, is still a fantastic book to read as an enjoyable post apocalyptic story.
And so we reach the fourth and last of James Herbert’s Rats story, his final story takes place several years in the future where the ruins of London have become the rats territory.
This was my first look into James Herbert’s work and where this whole interest in reading his work started. I picked this up by chance not knowing anything about James Herbert and his bestselling horror book series. I’m glad to have found this graphic novel, as it’s opened my interest to try and read more variety of books than just Black Library.
This graphic novel doesn’t add anything to the ongoing story, an the story itself is not much to say. We don’t know much about the protagonist, the Traveler, and what happens to the character in the aftermath of Domain.
It’s sad to say that this final story is not worth reading unless your a collected and fan of James Herbert’s Rats series. The art however is gorgeous in the way Ian Miller illustrates a torn and ravaged landscape of post apocalyptic London.
Going back and reading this graphic novel after reading all three books has finally made some sense, parts before I isn’t have a clue about until now. It’s worth reading all three books before reading this if you want to know what game before.
With that, I’ve finally finished reading this long and compelling series that James Herbert had created. I’ve really enjoyed reading this book series and broaden my tastes for more Sci-Fi/ horror fiction stories.
Although James had sadly died in 2013, and his fiction will not be as known as the more notable mainstream fiction. I’d like to think that James is still a well respected writer that still has a following of readers who praise his talent of work. I’m glad to have read his fictional work, and hope to read more of his books like The Fog and 48.
Thank you for reading this post, I hope you have enjoyed this post and learnt something new today. Are you a fan of James Herbert’s work? Have you read any of the books from The Rats Trilogy? Comment below and share your views on your favourite book by James Herbert, and which book from The Rats trilogy did you like most?
I’m not quite finished yet with The Rats trilogy just yet. I’m planning on doing a spoiler post on big plot points in the trilogy, and speculate on the revelations in the series finale.
Then I’ll be doing one last post on what I’d change and improve on the graphic novel, The City. So stay tuned for both posts soon!
Until next time!