Saturday, 1 September 2012


China Miéville would appear to have a thing for trains and ships.

The evidence is clear, m'lud. Iron Council had an eponymous train that gave New Crobuzon hope against the totalitarian regime in power there. It wasn't a bit-part player. It formed the crux of the whole novel. And then there's Iron Council's predecessor in Bas-Lag, The Scar. The floating city, Armada, gave us a memorable setting made up of thousands of lashed-together ships. Like the Iron Council, Armada was a hotbed of political scheming and misdirection all based around a mode of transportation.

And Railsea combines the two.

In Railsea, trains are talked about in nautical terms. It's a world without oceans, but with a rich and varied world. We have the railsea itself, an inhospitable land punctuated by habitable islands, where burrowing megafauna dominate and humans need to travel the rails of the railsea to get from place to place. Sham Yes ap Soorap is a doctor's assistant aboard the Medes, a moletrain that goes to railsea to hunt the megafauna. And what follows from the blockbuster opening is an old-fashioned sea adventure story, complete with pirates, mythology, wild battles with impossible creatures... and a distinct lack of water.

I like China Miéville. Most people will already have twigged that. In the last two years I've read all the Bas-Lag novels, plus The City and the City and Embassytown. None of them has been a let-down; all of them have been phenomenal read, and all for different reasons. In its style and scope, Railsea has most in common with Bas-Lag - the grotesque beauty of another world eerily close to our own will be familiar to most of the initiated. Throw in an epic adventure where the little man takes centre stage and it becomes a must-read for Bas-Lag fans. It may not be in the same world, but there's a steampunk feel, as well as there being something a little 'off' about the setting.

Being for younger readers, all aspects of Miéville's usually verbose vocabulary are pared down. It's still a little spicy for the really young 'uns, and I think most readers under a certain age would still be daunted by the complexity of Miéville's prose, but as a stepping stone to his adult work I can't see a better option. Older readers will still love it, and I know that I will thoroughly recommend it to anyone who asks.

There's plenty I could say about the literary influences behind it - such as Moby Dick and Robinson Crusoe - but in truth you don't need to know about them to enjoy the book. It's just an added literary Easter egg.

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