No Dominion

Written by Louise Welsh

Review written by Gwen Moffat

Gwen Moffat lives in Cumbria. Her novels are set in remote communities ranging from the Hebrides to the American West. The crimes fit their environment, swelling that dreadful record of sin in the smiling countryside cited by Sherlock Holmes.

No Dominion
John Murray
RRP: £8.99
Released: July 13, 2017

Seven years after a pandemic destroys most of the world’s population and civilisation as we know it tiny communities are trying to rebuild, their success depending basically on quality of leadership and isolation.

The Orkney Islands, with a strong woman president in the person of Stevie Smith, is a case in point. But, a fragile democracy, its youngsters are starting to rebel against the harsh realities of an island returned to medieval conditions while these children are aware that not long ago young people had leisure and sophisticated toys and fun. Now all they have is each other and they are denied that. This book is imbued with sex and hence with violence.

The children are survivors of the pandemic who fled north to end in the Orkneys where they were adopted by islanders. Shug’s foster father is Magnus, the President’s deputy, and Shug is in love with Willow, fostered by Bjarn and Candice. The affair is fiercely opposed by Bjarn, threatening violence against the boy, who is as furiously defended by Magnus. The situation is temporarily defused by the alarming arrival of three strangers, putative carriers of the plague.

The new arrivals are quarantined on an uninhabited island and the rebellious youngsters visit them, avid for news of the outside world. But the strangers are disruptive catalysts and on one stormy night repressed passions erupt in a maelstrom of violence and mystery.

Magnus finds Shug badly beaten. Taking his rifle he rides to Bjarn’s farm, only to find the man and his wife dead of gunshot wounds. Willow is missing. Returning to his own croft he finds Shug has disappeared. Disorientated by concern and dreadful suspicions, he encounters neighbours searching for a baby who has vanished. In no time it’s learned that the three strange incomers  have sailed away. With them have gone Shug and Willow, the baby and two more island boys.

Stevie and Magnus, the sole representatives of authority, sail after them, their aims to rescue the children who they think have been at least brainwashed if not abducted, and to apprehend the killers of Bjarn and his wife, whoever they may be.

The tale turns into a road epic; the couple see themselves as Thelma and Louise – except for gender and the fact that Thelma and Louise die. Predictably they encounter hostility from the start, armed bands occupying the mainland from Scrabster to Glasgow.  By fast talking, by barter and intimidation and even murder they follow the trail of the fugitives, working their way south on horseback, in a van, finally a Humvee. They encounter a lord in his castle, having dominion over a vast hoard of petrol, an army of roughs and a child-wife. Child-trafficking is an industry, paedophilia innocuous; these are old crimes pertaining to old rules. Now there are no rules except those set by armed despots. And even they have problems. Lynching is rife.

For the reader who has followed so far the outcome of the journey is the meat of the book. For the rest this is a portrait of a country after the collapse of order: a crude fantasy in primary colours where imagination runs riot over plausibility. John Wyndham showed how to do it after the ice caps melted in The Kraken Wakes.


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