Author: China Miéville
Publication Date: 05/15/2012
Publisher: Random House
Blurb(GR): On board the moletrain Medes, Sham ap Soorap watches in awe as he witnesses his first moldywarpe hunt: the giant mole bursting from the earth, the harpoonists targeting their prey, the battle resulting in one’s death and the other’s glory. But no matter how spectacular it is, Sham can't shake the sense that there is more to life than traveling the endless rails of the railsea–even if his captain can think only of the hunt for the ivory-coloured mole she’s been chasing since it took her arm all those years ago. When they come across a wrecked train, at first it's a welcome distraction. But what Sham finds in the derelict—a series of pictures hinting at something, somewhere, that should be impossible—leads to considerably more than he'd bargained for. Soon he's hunted on all sides, by pirates, trainsfolk, monsters and salvage-scrabblers. And it might not be just Sham's life that's about to change. It could be the whole of the railsea.
From China Miéville comes a novel for readers of all ages, a gripping and brilliantly imagined take on Herman Melville's Moby-Dick that confirms his status as "the most original and talented voice to appear in several years." (Science Fiction Chronicle).
Once again, China Miéville delivers one of the most unique, imaginative worlds I’ve ever spent time in. I sometimes wonder if this man is taking some sort of imagination supplements that the rest of us don’t know about (Hallucinogenic drugs perhaps? Dreamshit?). How does he even come up with these things? I mean, I was pretty skeptical about giant moles as monsters, but he really sold it:
"The mole rats shook off earth. Like hairless, wrinkled mammal newborn, swollen to dog-size, snapping dreadful incisors. Eyes like raisins shoved in dough. They breathed throatily. The earth growled."
He doesn’t just come up with these worlds; he paints them so vividly – reading one of his books is like being consumed (& just FYI – if you’re intrigued/confused/annoyed by all the ampersands, give him time. It gets explained). The world of this book is different than anything I’ve ever read. It’s a forgotten planet - a planet of pollution, salvage, monsters, and an endless sea of rails.
"Generations of thinkers have stood with notebooks open on coastlines, the endless spread of ties-&-iron before them – countless junctions, switches, possibilities in all directions - & insisted that what characterizes rails is that they have no terminus. No schedule, no end, no direction. This has become common sense. This is a cliché."
The few humans live on small islands surrounded by the railsea. The only way to get on or off the islands is by train. Touching the earth in between the rails is not only taboo, it’s dangerous. The earth is infested with giant moles, ants, earwigs, and earth worms, all changed irrevocably by years of exposure to environmental pollution.
Sham Ap Soorap is a young man like so many others featured in classic high seas adventures: he's setting off on his first adventure and he's in over his head. His well-meaning guardians have sent him aboard the moling train Medes to apprentice under the train’s doctor, a task he has no passion for. The Medes navigates the switches and turns in search of Mocker Jack, the large off-white mole that’s become the obsession of the enigmatic Captain Naphi (yes, this is a nod to Moby Dick). When Sham uncovers a memory card within the wreckage of a train, containing a picture that should not exist – a single rail, leading in one direction out of the sea – he starts to develop an obsession of his own.
This book is about bravery and exploration – it’s about having the courage to take those first few steps toward the edge of a flat world and risk falling off.
“I’m not a kid anymore, Sham thought. Shouldn’t take anything for granted. A big bird cawed as he thought that, & Sham took it as applause. All my life, he thought, they’ve told me about the dangers of the earth. Maybe it’s true. But… He kept his eyes on the foody island across the narrow railsea strait. But maybe it’s also useful for them if everyone believes it. If people are too scared to just go.”
The world-building is outstanding, the characters are well-constructed and interesting, and for about 60% of the book, the story is compelling. However, towards the end the plot lost a lot of steam and went a bit off the rails (hee hee). The ending felt odd and anticlimactic and just didn’t have the emotional impact that I was hoping for. However, I am still in awe of this writer’s talent and I would still recommend this wholeheartedly to his fans.
A note: I really don't think this is YA, but it's not adult either. The blurb says "for readers of all ages" but I think that's just a catch-all. This book is extremely hard to place in any category. The vocabulary is advanced (as always with this author) but the plot is young enough for middle grade readers.
Perfect Musical Pairing
David Bowie – 5:15 (The Angels Have Gone)
"All of my life
Angels have gone
I'm changing trains
Angels like them
Thin on the ground"
I think this song is about searching for something that you’re missing – that constant search. Also, the second title “The Angels Have Gone” totally works as a reference to this book but I’m not giving anything away. Let me just say that the “angels” were one of my favorite parts of this world.
Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing an advanced copy for review purposes. Please check all quotations against the final version.