Saturday, 21 December 2013

King Rat by China Mieville Review

Saul is framed for the murder of his father and sent to jail where he’s somehow broken out by a mysterious character calling himself King Rat. King Rat reveals Saul’s mother was secretly a rat and that he belongs underneath London, in a dark and magical place among the rats! 

This was my first China Mieville book and might be my last - it certainly made no positive impression on me to make me want to seek out more of this author’s work. The main character, Saul, is a charmless cipher, bumbling around while things happen to him. The title character is interesting, at least partially. King Rat is shadowy, otherworldly, though it’s difficult to picture him and Mieville does little to build up much of an image of the character. He’s King of the Rats but he’s quasi-human, or at least big enough as a human but he’s not entirely rat-like? I never knew. And he’s magic or something and he’s also a ninja - whaaa? Then when Saul becomes rat-ish - just from eating garbage, by the way! - I don’t know what form he takes. Is he still human after that or…? Whatever. And apparently eating trash gives him ninja powers! 

Ironically, Mieville suffocates what little plot there is with an abundance of descriptive passages describing London over and over again. Reading about the urban environment might be interesting but not in the way Mieville writes about it, it isn’t. You like London and see a dirty beauty in trash-strewn alleys, I get it - but to pad out entire chapters with these descriptions is overindulgent. 

I gave up on this after 150 pages, slogging my way through yet another description of a street and deciding I couldn’t read another 260 pages of this slop. King Rat, the only character worth reading about, had gone by that point; there was a hint of the Pied Piper myth that seemed corny as hell; Saul and his dreary friends were now the focus and their lack of personality had bored me silly; and the (for sake of argument, let’s call it) story hadn’t moved forward in 50 pages. Enough! my brain yelled. I dropped the book and immediately felt better for it! 

Published in the late 90s, I suppose the publisher had noticed Neil Gaiman’s TV show/comic book/novel Neverwhere doing well at this time and wanted to capitalise on it with something similar, but King Rat isn’t even close to Neverwhere (itself only a mediocre story). King Rat belongs amid the rubbish its characters revel in. Mieville has his fans but I’m definitely not among them.

King Rat

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