This was my first foray into the mind of Mr. China Mieville, and I must say that, on the whole, it was a pleasant one. Mieville has a creative vocabulary spanning miles. He shows us a side of London so foreign that it may well be another world entirely. His ideas are fresh, his prose is marvelous, and his settings are vivid.
Even if you’ve been to London, I doubt this is a London you’ll recognize. It’s an epicenter of cultures, of age old stories, of even older secrets. The scenes in the sewers exemplify these characteristics best; it’s the place where vermin breed, where kings still rule, and where the supernatural is commonplace. Whether or not you agree with Mieville’s ideas, you’ve got to admit, they’re pretty darn cool.
But let’s not forget that this is Mieville’s first novel. At times, it shows.
The lone shortcoming preventing King Rat from achieving absolute brilliance is its rather bland cast of characters. The protagonist, Saul Garamond, feels stiff, as does his antagonist, the Piper. Even Saul’s friends Natasha and Fabian feel incomplete (though the former probably comes closest to three-dimensionality).
Luckily, the titular King Rat provides some much needed depth. He’s despicable, spiteful, vengeful, maybe even downright evil. But at the same time, there’s something so pitiful about him, something so tragic that I constantly found myself alternating between sympathy and hatred. That’s an impressive feat on the part of the author–but, unfortunately, he doesn’t manage to pull this off with any other characters.
The ending…well, I’m not quite sure how to feel about the ending. I won’t give away any details in case you’d like to read King Rat, but Saul’s final revelation certainly seems to come out of left field. I suppose I should applaud Mr. Mieville for doing something unexpected. But, at least for me, the ending he chose doesn’t really work as well as I’d like.
Though the characters and ending might leave much to be desired, King Rat is undeniably imaginative, adventurous, and unique. It’s the kind of fantasy novel that reinvents what fantasy can be.