King Rat is a dark novel immersed in the underground of London, that twists an old fairy tale with rich characters.
Set in London, Miéville’s first novel, King Rat is about Saul, whose life is turned upside down when his father is murdered and the cops try to pin him with the crime. This is the catalyst for a whole new world and set of rules, but I won’t give it all away. But the fantastic element is down well and easily suspends your disbelief.
I will say though, that the world is rich, partly set within the milieu of London’s Jungle music scene and is a twist on the Pied Piper of Hamlin tale. The characters are all original and interesting in their own right but the strength is in the atmosphere. The whole feel of the novel is dark, sinister and underground. For me, this is the ideal mood for a novel and I was hooked by this feel of the world.
The plot moved at a fast pace and had clear developments and twists, but at the same time came across as realistic. Similarly, the ending built up to a massive climax that was as a whole satisfying without being too cliché at all. The imperfectness of the ending maintained the realism of this very unreal world.
Miéville is known by many as a socialist, and member of Britain’s Socialist Workers Party so of course I was interested to see how he approached politics within this novel. Saul’s late father was an active socialist as part of an organisation so politics is part of the backdrop of the novel but never front and centre.
But the texture and world is obviously shaped by his understanding of the world, adding to the richness of the world especially with his descriptions of the city, contrasting the front of the city with its hidden core, alluding to how it was built by workers.
As Miéville has said in interviews, you don’t have to be political to read these novels, but for those who are interested in the politics, it’s definitely there to be read into.
Overall, an original tale with great characters is definitely recommended for lovers of dark and fantastic stories.