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Railsea: 05/22/12

cover art

Railsea is China Miéville's second YA fantasy. After adoring every last word and illustration in Un Lun Dun I was overjoyed to get an egalley for review. I think this is a time where expectations have outrun reality.

Sham (of a much longer name which I won't bother repeating here) works on mole train. He'd rather work salvage but this is the job he could find. And so like Ishmael, he's stuck with an insane captain on an equally insane hunt. Except he lives in a barren world where the earth is covered with endless crisscrossing railroad tracks and the land beneath is teeming with bloodthirsty, man-eating creatures — like the dreaded moldywarpe.

Moldywarpe to me sounds like a Flannimal — and while they can be fierce, they are often more crude and silly than deadly. Just as I was trying to get Ricky Gervais's creations out of my mind and focus on Mieville's book, there is an illustration of a naked mole-rat. Sure, it's large, hungry and dangerous but it's still a naked mole-rat. Forget Flanimals, now I'm thinking of Kim Possible and Ron's pet, Rufus — for the remainder of the book.

Just like Un Lun Dun, Railsea is metafiction. It plays with conventions and genre expectations. One way it does this is through the re-definition of common words like "philosophy" and the use of anagrams for character names. A little bit of this goes a long way. Here there is an over abundance.

Those puns in turn lead to parodies of Moby-Dick and Robert Louis Stevenson's pirate stories. Unfortunately Miéville is out of his comfort zone and can't keep pace with either Melville's humor or Stevenson's high seas hijinks.

& then there are the ampersands. Apparently these are intended to show the twists and turns of the Railsea. In an egalley where often we are given works still in the process of final edits, I took these ampersands to be stand-ins for and because looks unpolished and incomplete.

While most of the book blogosphere is falling down in adoration for Miéville's latest work, I just can't join in the fun. I want to but for me the book does not work.

Read via NetGalley

Two stars

Comments (6)

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Comment #1: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 at 01:03:29

Amritorupa Kanjilal

Hello, I have heard of China Mieville, but I haven't read anything by the author. If I do, I'll listen to your advice and not start with this book. Loved your book blog, and also your frank style of reviewing. Following you now!
Please do visit my book blog at Rivers I Have Known.
and if you like it, please do follow. Thank you!

Comment #2: Sunday, May 26, 2012 at 16:39:10


My two favorite Mieville books are Looking for Jake and Other Stories and Un Lun Dun. Perdido Street Station is also very good. Start there to get a taste of his writing. I've subscribed to your blog but I read / skim dozens of blogs each week. I won't necessary have time to comment on your posts but I will be reading them.

Comment #3: Monday, May 28, 2012 at 21:45:39


Ahh — glad to see your review. There seems to be a bit of buzz on the book but I've read a couple of reviews that were tentative. Thanks for your honest thoughts!

Comment #4: Thursday, May 31, 2012 at 23:06:14


You're welcome. It was, sadly, a disappointment but I will still give his next book a read.

Comment #5: Sunday, June 10, 2012 at 16:14:57

Stepping Out of the Page

Wonderful, honest review! I have to admit that this isn't something I'd immediately want to pick up but you have certainly sold it to me, it actually sounds very interesting.

New to your blog!

Comment #6: Monday, June 11, 2012 at 19:27:01


Welcome to my blog. By all means, give the book a go!

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