I'm not sure you are allowed to review one of China Mieville's books without mentioning all the stuff he is known for: 'weird' fiction, his smouldering eyes, and a habit of using long words, just to name a few.
I just wanted to write 'smouldering eyes'. It's done, so lets move on to Railsea.
The title says it all, but until I started reading I could not even imagine what it meant. The world is covered in rails, or at least the low lying, flat parts of the world. The ground there is of a softer, loser variety allowing for all sorts of burrowing critters, moles, badgers, antlions and bloodworms. All of them flesh eating of course. Turns out you don't need water to have monsters lurking in the deep.
I admit it was not with the most open of minds I first set sail on the Railsea, and it was with more than a little skepticism I found myself on board a moler train. I wasn't the only one on board who was not sure about this. The doctor's apprentice, a heavyset boy not yet a young man, was dreaming about adventure. Our little protagonist has not yet found what he wants to do, but it is clear he is not good at doctoring, or anything else so far. Not the bravest of boys, but not a coward either. It wouldn't be unfair to say he was like most other children, but this is his story, and it's the adventure of a life time.
As I was reading I remembered a book from my childhood, Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver by Michael Ende, a book which I thought was just pure magic, and left me in awe. Railsea seemed to bring me back a fraction of this long lost feeling of wonder and amazement only a child can experience.
I did enjoy reading it, quite a lot in fact, but 25 years ago I would have enjoyed it even more. The reader should be more young than adult, but, hopefully one day I can read Railsea to my own children.
The prose is excellent, which is hardly a surprise. It's also endearing how a lot of things are taken at face value, controls are controlled, tinkerers tinker and so forth, and sounds are often made into words.
It's a curious place as well. What happened with the water? Over consumption turned the seas into landfills with garbage? China Mievelle's world is full of myths, legends and strange creatures. It sure made me curious. There are several drawings in the book showing us a few of the weird animals.
A lot was familiar, it's as if China Mieville was looking at our world through a pair of glasses, and everything he saw was the same, but weirder. Not sure it makes sense, but it does not have to, as it might as well be what a child would imagine.
Railsea weighs in at 384 pages, and is published by Tor.