King Rat by China Miéville

Saul is a disaffected young adult living with his father in London. He looks out at the unending sprawl hoping for some signs of his future in the maze of London’s streets and travel networks.

Then someone pushes his dad out of the living room window. Saul is wanted for his murder. King Rat, a stinking, wiry man with phenomenal strength and agility breaks him out of prison and offers him a new world; a world where the figures of myth and fairytale step out of the shadows in all their gruesome glory.

To tell too much more might spoil the story so let’s just say it gets more complicated. What is Saul’s true heritage? Should he trust King Rat? Who is the mysterious piper?

The novel is alive with three plot lines: Saul’s, Saul’s friends who become entangled with the piper, and that of the detective investigating Saul’s father’s death. Crime and science fiction blend well with a realistically noir depiction of London and there is no doubt that the writing is compelling.

I have been meaning to read a novel by China Miéville for a long time and I didn’t realise that King Rat was his first until I reached the end. Though I enjoyed the novel, I suspect this is only half of what China Miéville can do. There is a sense of promise, a sense that social justice, a knowledge of London, and a joy in mixing genres will bring about more interesting novels as he continues to write. Certainly it has whetted my appetite for reading more of his work.

King Rat is an energetic romp around London, the city itself seeming to provide the bass line to the melody of the story. The words enable you to see graphic art images and hear the drum and bass soundtrack. Those of you who like this sort of thing will recognise it and want to read it. I suspect some of his later work has a wider readership. I’ll have to read some and let you know.

Next week I’m reading What a Way to Go by Julia Forster, which was published this January by Atlantic Books.


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