Miéville sends up Melville in this rather splendid, brisk and punchy YA fantasy take on Moby Dick
, without a single whale anywhere to be found.
The world of Railsea
is a dry, used up, desiccated and desecrated place; all desert and scrub-land, where humanity is forced to build its settlements on rocky 'islands' above the earth, primarily for survival purposes, and mainly due to the fact that insects and mammals of a huge variety of shapes and sizes can always be found lurking just beneath the surface with only really one thing in common: they would all very much like to eat you. The largest and most terrifying (and most prized) of these creatures is the Moldywarpe, the giant mole.
Across the surface lie thousands, perhaps even millions, of miles of rail tracks, the legacy of a long dead civilization, or perhaps the divine gift of a celestial power, some would say. This is the Railsea, which connects all of the settlements together and allows those of a particularly daring disposition to board trains and venture forth into the wastes to explore, or to scavenge for relics of the past, or to hunt the great beasts of the underneath for glory and profit.
Sham ap Soorap gets a job aboard the moler train Medes
as a doctor's assistant. Under Captain Naphi, the Medes
is tasked with heading out into the Railsea and hunting for Moldywarpe, but Naphi has a score to settle, and her fixation with the legendary ivory Moldywarpe 'Mocker Jack' puts the crew in a very perilous position. Whilst investigating the ruined shell of a derailed train, Sham finds something that could be a part of something way bigger than mole hunting - a clue leading to potentially discovering where the railsea originated and, more importantly, where the rails actually end - but in order to unravel the mystery he's going to need help. And to somehow get Captain Naphi to change course.
Miéville's real strength is in his ability to create such well-realised, living, breathing worlds, and Railsea
is no exception. I'm always particularly fascinated by the sheer depth of imagination he exhibits when creating a sense of place - you can practically taste the air.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Railsea
. It's a bit lighter than the usual Miéville fare, but if you're up for a fast-paced dieselpunk/whalepunk (or should that be mole
punk?) mash-up adventure, then you could do much worse than picking this up.