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"NO QUARTER - DOMINIUM: VOLUME 1" by MJL Evans & GM O'Connor
Posted by Matt McAvoy on Wednesday, January 25, 2017
Under: Book Reviews
I have to be honest, I felt a little cheated by this book. Obviously, I was aware at the time of reading that it was volume 1 of a 6-part series, but, from a simple viewpoint, it took a little while to start coming together, and then ended abruptly just as it looked as though it were about to.
Set in colonial-era Jamaica, this book opens in dramatic fashion (a shipwreck in a hurricane), and we are transported instantly into a world of slavery, cut-throat pirates and imperial elitism, promising, at the least, a good, old-fashioned tale of adventure. The title "Dominium" could refer to several contexts, from what we learn up to this point, though what looks most likely is that the dominium referred to is that of the ownership of people as property. On starting to read, I was not clear entirely which genre this book was going to fit into, and, to tell the truth, after reading it I am still not sure. The book contains moments of carnage, hinting at a tale of gritty piracy, or perhaps brutal slavery. At other times the paranoid and underhand dealings of the British elite class point at a suggestion of intrigue. There is even a possibility of swashbuckling romance.
And this is where the cheated feeling comes in, because just as it looks that the formula is about to fall into place, volume 1 ends. And, truthfully, by this point, as the reader, you are keen to ascertain at least the theme of the book: is it dark, is it romantic, is it swashbuckling adventure, or is it slapstick farce - I feel that to clarify this by the time the reader has reached this teaser-point greatly increases the likelihood that he/she will proceed to volume 2.
I say slapstick, because the book features a particularly contemporary tongue-in-cheek line of humour, and some crass language which would not be out of place in modern-day comedy fiction, while the prevalent bawdiness puts one in mind of the Empire-poking historical "Carry-On" movies of the 70s, particularly because a good deal of the ridicule is aimed toward the Empire's pompous attempts to recreate "society" life in the Caribbean, with all the buffoonery and oppression we would expect. Some of these moments are truly laugh-out-loud funny (such as the "colour chart" idea), whereas others fall a little flat on the page, perhaps because as the reader we don't know whether to expect them or not. This slapstick feel is inconsistent and sporadic, highlighting further the genre identity crisis Dominium is coming to terms with in volume 1. I suspect that in the next volume, as the author grew into the creation of this book, it settled and found a steady voice which would carry the reader more comfortably on its journey.
Unfortunately, in this volume, there is just too much going on, too quickly and too inconsistently. I would be interested to see how the book progresses in volume 2, but if I'm being honest, I would have liked to have seen volume 1 carry on for much longer - it is only 25,500 words long, and I feel it would benefit more from being novelized and including a much larger chunk of the full story, perhaps by publishing Dominium in 3 volumes instead of 6.
Ms. Evans clearly knows her history, and revels theatrically in the setpieces, naval architecture and terminology of the period - but I would have liked to have seen her LOVE the costume theatre of it more, and write the book rather than speak it. This book requires much less dialogue, and a far more descriptive prose, which the author shows at times she is certainly capable of delivering - it also needs deeper character development and a more engrossing, detailed pace. As it reads, things happen very quickly - plot points are rushed out of character's mouths, rather than the author's pen, and as quickly as people are introduced, they are gone and another character takes their place. At times, it is incredibly difficult to keep up with events, and often necessary to backtrack. I feel this is particularly important because in the opening volume the many characters have yet to come together in the story - again, just as they start to, we stop reading, with no natural end of act.
This is an interesting book, and I think the volume promises much more from the story, with its attractive range of characters and the emergence of natural antagonists. It is this promise, I think, which suggests to me it would be short-sighted to award it less than the 3 stars I have.
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