Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Book Review: Dominion by Shane Arbuthnott

Pros: fun protagonist, interesting world

Cons: lack of nuance

Molly Stout has lived most of her fourteen years in the sky, engineer on her father’s airship, harvesting the spirits that control the machines that power the new world. When she helps capture a powerful spirit that talks to her, a skill spirits aren’t supposed to have, she begins to learn that her world is built on lies. 

Molly’s a great character navigating a difficult world. She deals with some terrible consequences, both for the actions she takes and the actions of those around her. As she discovers that spirits aren’t the monsters she’s been taught they are, she’s forced to realize the extent of the slavery and murder perpetrated on them by humans - herself included. 

I was impressed that the book pointed out both the ills of slavery and how difficult it is to dismantle an institution so much depends on. 

This may not bother other readers but I found Molly’s designation of engineer suspect. To me an engineer should know the ins and outs of the machines they’re working with. Molly doesn’t know what all the interior wires and gears do, she simply does exterior maintenance to keep the engine working.

While you don’t learn everything about the spirits, the author does a great job of showing both their powers and limitations in the Earthly realm. I liked that there are more than one kind of spirit, though not much is said about the terrics.

The family dynamics were interesting. The mother dead in childbirth seems to happen a lot in stories, as does the mixture of anger and sadness surrounding the child whose birth caused it. So I found Molly’s relationship with Rory refreshing. I’d assumed he’d be the teasing brother who drove her nuts or screamed abuse at her, and instead he helps her with a later goal in the book. I would have liked to see more interaction (or even flashbacks) with Brigid, and more nuanced interactions with her father, but I liked that the family loves each other but is also disfunctional in some ways. Molly’s emotions regarding her father at the end of the book were realistic given everything that happened.

There’s a lot of adventure - even if Molly manages to get away with more than is likely (I’d still like to know how she left the shipyard considering her route of entry wasn’t an option). But it’s no different from other books for this age group.

One aspect of the ending left me feeling troubled. I’ll deal with it in the spoiler section below.

All in all it’s a fun, quick read, that asks some hard questions and requires some contemplation.


It greatly disturbed me that the spirit who ran their ship comes back to help them after it’s freed, because Molly was nice to it. I found the idea that a creature that was tortured for so long would return, ridiculous. Regardless of Molly’s treatment, Legendermain should have felt nothing but anger towards her family for the years it lost and the lives of its kind they captured and sold. From an outsider’s point of view it’s possible to feel sympathy for the masters - especially children who don’t realize why slavery is wrong - but I cannot believe the slaves themselves feel any such sympathy. As a book for young adults, it’s dealing with themes that apply to the real world, which help teach real world kids how to react to things. And I believe the book dropped the ball here. I understand that the author wanted the family to have a flight capable ship for the next book. But maybe that book could have dealt with the family creating a new friendship and mutually beneficial relationship with the spirits instead, which would achieve the same goal while showing that abusing people doesn’t make them friends, but actual change and hard work can dismantle dysfunctional systems and create systems that work for everyone. Beyond Molly’s dubious friendship (she only freed it when the ship was taken away), what does Legendermain get out of this new arrangement?

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