Unholy Domain is a sequel to Dan Ronco’s previous book Peacekeeper, but you don’t have to have read that to read this. I hadn’t and it all made sense. If I had to sum up Unholy Domain in a soundbite I would probably say Tom Clancy meets William Gibson.
In 2022 and the world is sinking into a massive depression. After the death and chaos caused by the Peacemaker virus in 2012, the US government enacted heavy restrictions on advanced technology. The effect was to stifle growth and the countries infrastructure is slowly collapsing.
The Church of Natural Humans is pursuing a relentless crusade against Technos and using their Army of God are prepared to go to any lengths to defeat Satan. On the other side of things a shadowy technological group called the Domain are using organized crime to distribute illegal advanced technology including robots with sophisticated AI.
And right in the middle is David Brown, the son of the man blamed for creating the Peacemaker virus. David has inherited his fathers talent for coding, but he also has a unique ability to interface his mind directly with computers. All three groups come crashing together as the world reaches a crossroads and the path of the future is decided.
Dan Ronco’s writing style is sparse. Descriptions aren’t allowed to get in the way of the plot which hurtles along at breakneck speed. Characters get enough description to make them distinctive and anything relating to the plot is describe, some scenes in vivid detail, but he doesn’t waste words.
The view point jumps from character to character as the story unfolds and even minor players are fleshed out so you get a sense of their motivations. Ronco does a particularly good job of presenting the major players as rounded individual. No one in this scenario thinks they are doing evil and ironicaly one of the characters who is really only in it for herself is the most genuinely religious.
In some ways it is actually the central protagonist who comes off the worst in this. While the war for the future rages around him, he stumbles from person to person without much direction. And while people keep talking about the darkness in him, we really don’t actually see any sign of it in this book. In some ways he is only the hero because the other characters are more unpleasant than he is.
This is definitely an action thriller with science fiction overtones, but Ronco is addressing some big themes in this book. Ones that are already starting to impact our society. The devastating effect of the Peacemaker virus is chillingly believable for example.
In some ways this book is about a clash of religions. On the one hand we have traditional religious fanaticism as represented by the Church of Natural Humans who are a cult in all the ways we expect (nutty religious leader who takes advantage of his followers and so on). On the other hand though the Domain are every bit as fanatical in their world saving and every bit as irrational in their belief that they have all the answers to the world’s ills.
Another theme that Ronco returns to throughout the novel is the future of humans. What is the next step in human evolution? Could it be the “technological human” some sort of hybrid of human and machine? Or do we end up supplanted by sophisticated AIs? There’s a lot of material to chew on in this book.
If I have any criticisms its that the book obviously left a lot unfinished to allow for a third novel. I’m not opposed to reading book series, but I do prefer each book to feel complete and this one felt more like a set up for the next.
But the bottom line is it’s a good read. I finished the book in just two days. Which might not seem particularly amazing until you consider that I have a full time job, a wife, two kids and a home as well as this website taking up my time. Unholy Domain really does have that “can’t put down” feel to it though. The fast pace of the story kept me thinking just one more chapter.eoghann.com..