My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In Mob Rules, the first novel of Cameron Haley’s new Underworld Cycle series, we learn from a mobster’s right-hand lieutenant, Domino Riley, what it takes to be a gangster. It doesn’t take any longer than reading page two before readers understand that this isn’t the world of Don Corleone’s mafia. Domino’s world is ruled by cut-throat sorcerers who use the power of graffiti magic to boost the strength of their organization. One the most powerful sorcerers, Shanar Rashan, is a Sumerian mobster and Domino is his go-to girl for spellcraft.
Like the traditional mafia that we learned about in The Godfather movies, Rashan’s organization is made up of soldiers; each with their unique talents and job description. But only those few nearest the top are actually paid to think.
One of the more common roles in Rashan’s mob is that of tagger. Taggers are graffiti artists who have just enough magical power to use their art to link into the powerful ley lines of the Beyond and pull all power up for their bosses. Think of all the graffiti you see in a day on city walls, buildings, and bus stops. Imagine all the graffiti funneling a steady flow of supernatural power to a sorcerer like Rashan. This is a world of immense power.
In Rashan’s organization it is up to Domino to handle all but the most critical decisions. And it’s her job to figure out why another mob organization would murder a lowly tagger as a means to start a mob war. Domino realizes that for once, her job will require her to think outside her normal mob rules of etiquette and investigate this crime as if she is detective. This is just one of ways that the book’s author forces readers to look beyond the surface. Domino is an undisputed gangster, but she has rules in her society that she follows and a loyalty to her side that requires justice. There is no reason not to like Domino, who is just a hard-working girl trying to her job.
Urban Fantasy vs. Paranormal Romance
While you’ll find a thread of a romance in this novel – which I hope carries over in the next book in the series, Skeleton Crew – any romance in Domino’s world is a subplot to the Underworld and her life as a gangster. The mob and the constant battle to maintain power in this world are the focus of this book. Mob Rules is action packed Urban Fantasy. But the thread of romance in Mob Rules shows that Haley is capable of packing much more than a mere sci-fi fantasy story into his novels. You can give this book a quick read and enjoy the story for just what it is – great entertainment! But I hope that there are a few of you who’ll also read between the lines and learn more about how carefully we should all pay attention to the world around us.
This novel is an interesting case study of a woman taking a more traditional male role. It isn’t often that you hear of a woman, especially a rather young woman when she started with Rashan’s organization, to rise in such a male dominant world where strength and power rule. Domino believes that it’s her street smarts and spellcraft that has made her fit into this male world so well. However, I believe that Haley had other ideas when he cast the lead as an untraditional female.
Haley has created a world similar to ours but different. Different if we are able to see it. That of the Otherworld. Domino acts as the reader’s eyes in this new version of the world. And for us to begin to look at everything differently, we have to first accept that certain things are no longer important – such as sexism. In Domino’s world there are many more much pressing concerns that require one to look beyond what one expects.
Haley goes even further with his creation of Moon Dog, who appears to be your typical Hollywood burnt-out Vietnam vet who came home from the war shell-shocked and handicapped. In an email interview with the author, Haley wrote
“It may not be obvious, but [Moon Dog] kind of encapsulates the Underworld more than any other character in the book, even Domino. He’s iconic of the idea of the supernatural hiding in plain sight on the margins of our society.”
It is clear from Moon Dog’s role in Domino’s story that Haley likes this character. Domino’s descriptions of Moon Dog and her interaction with him give readers an appreciation for those who have suffered and those with disabilities. Moon Dog is a character that you’ll want to pay attention to and enjoy; there’s a lot about life and society that he can teach you.
Haley’s novel reads as if you are sitting at a bar having a drink with Domino. You are in her head and the conversation is flowing naturally from her to the reader. For example, Domino declares not far into the story, “I can speak with the dead. It comes up in my business.” While the statement is shocking to us mere mortals, the practice is commonplace to Domino. No more disconcerting to her than if she said, “Here, have some pretzels.” So go ahead, sit down. Have a drink and some snacks with Domino. And enjoy reading Mob Rules. I certainly did.