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King Rat (China Miéville)

Tuesday, 29. September 2009

King Rat is China Miéville‘s first novel.

Plot:
Saul returns to the home he shares with his father after a trip to find his father murdered and to be suspected by the police of being the murderer. He is saved by King Rat, the King of the rats (SURPRISE!) and a kind of mixture between rat and man. King Rat tells him that he is the brother of Saul’s dead mother and that Saul therefore has rat blood himself. While Saul discovers his roots and his abilities, a weird young man approaches Saul’s friend Natasha, who is a Drum’n’Bass DJ. The young man plays the flute and kind of insinuates himself into her otherwise very guarded life.
Well, Saul soon discovers that all isn’t well in the land of the rats, that the rats hold a grudge against their king and the murder of his father is only one piece of a bigger context, in which Saul has a big role to play.

After having read Un Lun Dun, I’m afraid that my expectations for King Rat were a little bit too high. It’s a first novel after all. Though Miéville’s immense talent is there, the story and plotting is a little rough around the edges, a little too obvious in its development. But even so, King Rat is a good read.

kingrat

[SPOILERS]

So, to get the not so good stuff out of the way: It was painfully obvious to me that the young man at Natasha’s door was the Pied Piper, which I think was supposed to be a plot twist. Also, obvious was that he would use the DnB records to play both  the melody for rats and for humans and get Saul like this, who is half human and half rat and therefore immune to the single melodies. So, there was no real surprise in the showdown.

What was pretty clear pretty soon was that King Rat was a huge asshole. But I’m pretty sure that that’s how it was supposed to be. And, just to show that the novel is not completely predictable: that he was actually Saul’s father did surprise me. ;)

Talking about Saul’s dad (the real one, not the biological one), one of the strongest points of the novel was the way Miéville describes their relationship and their continuing estrangement. That really was beautifully done.

And I also loved Anansi and Loplop. And I adored that Miéville took another stereotype and turned it on its head (as he did in Un Lun Dun): the stereotype of the reluctant king. Quite often (especially in fantasy novels), there’s this guy who is supposed to be king, but he really doesn’t want to. But this reluctance makes him the perfect emperor and in the end, he always sits on the throne, ushering in an era of peace.
Anyway, Saul isn’t actually supposed to be king, even if of royal blood and even if the rats want him to be king. And he really doesn’t want to be the king of the rats, in fact, he’s not much for monarchies in general. So, in the end, King Rat is history and Saul is NOT king. Instead he tries to teach the rats that they really don’t need a king. Which is pretty awesome.

I have to admit that I’m being very good so far in this review as I haven’t yet drawn one comparison to Neverwhere. While the stories aren’t very similar, it seems obvious to me that Miéville must have been inspired by it, especially in the worldbuilding. The way Miéville uses the dark alleys and roofs and sewers of London for the setting of a magical world reminded me a lot of Neverwhere.

That is not to say that King Rat is a copy of Neverwhere – Miéville definitely brings enough new things and unique things into the world to make it more of an homage to Gaiman than anything else.

Miéville writes a lot about Drum’n’Bass. It’s clear that he has a great passion for it, but for people not as into it as he, these parts tend to get a little long.

Summarising, it’s a strong debut, but not the height of Miéville’s writing. And wouldn’t it be sad if his first novel was his best?

Oh, and just for prettiness’ sake:

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