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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


King Rat

China Miéville

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To purchase King Rat

Title: King Rat
Author: China Miéville
Genre: Novel
Written: 1998
Length: 319 pages
Availability: King Rat - US
King Rat - UK
King Rat - Canada
King Rat - India
König Ratte - Deutschland
El rey rata - España

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Our Assessment:

B+ : often impressive fantasy, but tries a bit too much

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
London Rev. of Books . 7/1/1999 Thomas Jones

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The complete review's Review:

       King Rat is a curious London-fantasy and Pied Piper story. Saul Garamond returns home and is awakened the next day by the police at his door. His father has been thrown to his death through the apartment window, and Saul is the prime suspect.
       Saul is distraught and baffled. Mieville nicely evokes the relationship Saul had with his father: a close one in his childhood days, his mother having died during childbirth, the father paying great attention to explaining the world to the boy (and doing so from a generally Marxist position), but eventually a shift towards mutual incomprehension keeping them further apart. But there is no other family, just a few friends Saul has, and the loss of his father is in a number of ways a crippling one.
       Saul is rescued from the clutches of the police by an unlikely creature -- King Rat himself. King Rat is, indeed, a rat. And he has some news for Saul: Saul isn't entirely human either:

    "You're a special boy, Saul, got special blood in your veins, and there's one in the city who'd like to see it spilled."
       Among the best parts of the novel are Mieville's descriptions of King Rat introducing Saul to his world and Saul discovering his own abilities and identity. These rat-beings are difficult to portray convincingly, but Miéville does, and from the food and smells to the ability of Saul and King Rat to appear near-invisible or to rush through sewers and up buildings Mieville has done something very impressive here. (It may not be quite to everyone's taste -- Miéville describes the smells and tastes very vividly -- but the book is worth reading for these parts alone.)
       Another creature lurks out there too, a Pied Piper with plans of his own. Saul is a particular danger to him, because, being only half-rat, he can't be swayed by the music as the pure rodents are, and so the Pied Piper wants to kill him. His plan involves a friend of Saul's, a musician who can be tricked into helping the Piper.
       King Rat also has his reasons for helping (and manipulating) Saul, but Saul begins to understand who the enemy is and how he might be conquered, leading to the predictable final showdown.
       The books gets very messy in its chases and a culminating Pied Piper carnage scene, and Mieville can't resolve it entirely satisfactorily (he calls the coppers and suggests, among other things: "say it was a performance piece that went horribly wrong"), but he also adds a nice twist to finish things off.

       King Rat is also a London novel. As King Rat explains:
"This is the city where I live. It shares all the points of yours and theirs, but none of its properties."
       Mieville nicely invents this alter-world -- indeed, the novel is filled with inspired invention. With a great deal of dialogue and short (often one-sentence) paragraphs (and the use of of italics for emphasis ("hear the trains growling ?")) Mieville moves things along quickly -- and a bit obviously. He also succumbs to the seductions of language in ways that don't always further what he is trying to do, in descriptions such as:
    The motion seemed to take a long time, the door fighting its way through air suddenly glutinous. The complaints of the hinges, emaciated with malaise, stretched out long after the door had stopped moving.
       It's a novel of trial-and-error: a fairly simple story (which he's not entirely comfortable with, leading to some creaky spots and characters), some marvelous ideas (what Saul is, for example), and some flair for writing (which gets a bit out of hand here), all mixed together, splattered across the pages. There's certainly a lot here that is worthwhile, and parts -- especially before the final conflict truly takes shape -- are very impressive.

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King Rat: Reviews: China Mieville: Other books by China Mieville under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       British author China Miéville was born in 1972.

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