China Mieville

King Rat

Fiction can often be as much about place as the story itself, and this is a perfect example of urban fiction. It's not horror of the suburbs or the tale of an ancient evil lurking in the woods. It reeks of the city, the grime and darkness just beneath the surface, and celebrates the world of the forgotten ones just below the surface. There's a patter of electronic music in the background, shapes of the jungle underground, beats like the patter of rat's feet in the sewers.

It's a contemporary Britain of the nineteen nineties, drum and bass and proffered copies of The Big Issue. A young man, Saul, returns home to find his father has plunged to his death from the window of their flat, and quickly finds himself the lead suspect in his murder. His arrest and incarceration comes quickly, and so does his subsequent unusual rescue from the jaws of imprisonment. A strange character from the shadows, a king whose subjects hold him in utter disdain, lord of the sewers and all they contain.

Saul finds himself drawn into a world of shadows, far from the light, and has to learn to exist in this unwholesome world that exists beneath our feet. London's hidden subculture, a city within a city. He has to discover his true nature, while uncovering the truth of what happened to his father. Savage murders coming closer to home as he tries to come to terms with the uncomfortable truth of his origins.

Mieville's first novel is a wonderful ride and highly recommended, he handles the twists and turns of the plot with consummate ease, and the characterisation is brilliant. He draws on an old fairy tale to give the story a superb twist and a grounding in a strange kind of logic that carries it through to its dramatic conclusion. It's a brilliant riff on a familiar tale, and it enhances rather detracts from the story, which leads to a genuine clash of wills that feels as though it could go either way.

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