Thursday, June 14, 2012

Railsea by China Miéville

I’ve been blogging for almost a year now.  As a blogger, I visit a lot of other blogs and I’ve been seeing China Miéville’s name mentioned here and there on the ones I visit but I’d never read anything that he’d written yet.  I knew I would have to at some point.  Then I happened upon Railsea, his latest, on Netgalley and thought why not jump in with his new young adult novel.  I’m so very glad I did!

Railsea is the story of the blood stained boy, Shamus Yes ap Soorap.  Sham witnesses his first moldywarpe hunt.  It’s thrilling, exciting and exhausting.  The captain of the moldywarpe train, the Medes, however, is after a much bigger prize than the moldywarpes they usually hunt.  It’s her philosophy; the giant, tan colored moldywarpe that took her arm long ago.  As Sham spends more time on the railsea, he believes there has to be more than just being a doctor’s assistant and hunting moldywarpes.  A chance encounter with a wrecked train and a discovery of mysterious images pointing to a way out of the railsea, Sham finds his own philosophy.  But as he investigates further he soon finds himself hunted by pirates, scavengers and the local navy.  They all want to know what Sham does about these mysteries images.  It could lead to treasure, riches or it could change the world that they know.

The first part sets up life on the railsea, what it’s like for Sham on his first moldywarpe hunt.  You get a real sense of what life is like on the rails; the sights, the smells and the danger.  It’s such an unusual dystopian, fantasy adventure.  Sham lives in a world ruled by the rails.  It’s just endless railroad tracks that zig zag everywhere, where the ground underneath the rails are filled with mutated rodents of unusual size.  Then we get to the discovery of the mysterious images which his captain tells him to ignore but he doesn’t.  This leads to Sham poking his nose where it doesn’t belong and which eventually sets off a series of events that turn the end into a full blown action adventure.  And there’s the secret revelation which has an ending that reminded me of The Planet of the Apes movie.  Not as epic, but it’s surprising and very interesting.

I really liked the style of the storytelling.  It reminded me of when I read Snow Crash. We’re in this new world and we’re not given a checklist of how this world works.  Details are revealed a little at a time, whether in the course of travelling the railsea or small teasers that occur between chapters.  It feels like if I were to ask for a timeline of events that led to this railsea future, China Miéville would provide me with one that was very detailed with names and dates; that’s how real the world building felt to me.  This is something I didn’t get with the other dystopian fictions I’ve read; that feeling that this could really be our future.

Sham is a very believable character.  He is not perfect and he makes realistic mistakes.  He's a typical teenager who ignores good advice, who wants to explore, who wants something bigger and better but when he gets it, it’s not what he thought it would be.  I found it very easy to connect with him and understood his curiosity and admire him for being so determined.

I really enjoyed Railsea and recommend it highly.  It’s one of those books I’d love to have on my shelf because I know I’ll be visiting Sham and the railsea again.


  1. I have yet to read, or I should say finish, and of Mieville's books. I started Un Lun Dun when it came out and had some real problems with the way it was written and listened to part of The City & The City when it was first released but didn't get through it before needing to return it to the library and I've not gotten back to it. I did have a friend send me a copy of Kraken recently and I am determined to give it a go sometime soon. His books always sound interesting and for some reason I don't actually get to them. I've heard some really nice things about this one though and I've been enjoying a lot of YA fiction lately. Glad your first experience with him was such a positive one.

    1. Before I found Railsea, Mieville's other books intimidated me. I was afraid I'd go through the same thing with him like I did with Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver, where twice I read Quicksilver and only got half way through before quitting. I ended up reading the shorter Snow Crash by Stephenson and enjoyed it a lot. I think building up, taking in small doses of these two authors might be the way to go for some readers.

  2. This book was driven by a great and very imaginative plot. The language used was absolutely beautiful, and the characters were immensely rich and engaging. Over all, this is worthy to be called a take off of the classic "Moby Dick".