May 15, 2012
On board the moletrain Medes, Sham Yes 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." (Taken from Goodreads.)
*An ARC was provided in exchange for a fair and honest review,
thank you NetGalley and Del ray Books**
thank you NetGalley and Del ray Books**
This is the story of a bloodstained boy.
My Take On It
What a ride. I was familiar with author China Miéville, having read some of his adult fiction titles, so when I discovered that he was publishing a YA work, I was excited to see how it would compare with his adult works. Sometimes the transition from one age group to another doesn't go over so well. I won't point any fingers but I have read some adult fiction author's attempts to break into the very popular YA market and fail miserably. YA doesn't equate to less intelligent, and nothing aggravates me more than when a writer tries to dumb down a book for a younger audience. Anyway (sorry about the rant) I am thrilled to say that Miéville's Railsea is just as action packed, imaginative, and smart as his adult works.
My first thoughts regarding Railsea lead me back to two of my favorite bloggers and friends, Heidi (Bunbury in the Stacks) and Asheley (Into the Hall of Books) because both of these girls read and loved this book. In fact, Railsea, had been languishing on my Kindle until I read Heidi's enthusiastic review, spurring me to pick it up and give it a look. I am so glad I did. Railsea has many elements that lovers of fantasy will enjoy. A hero quest across strange lands, chock full of action filled encounters with many odd and, at times, endearing characters. But there are also elements in Railsea that would make the die hard Dystopic fan's jaw drop. A foreign land, that seems at once dangerous, yet eerily familiar to the world we call our own. And Railsea caters to the lover of science fiction as well, full of fantastic burrowing creatures under the earth and even more amazing celestial creatures inhabiting the sky. If you are a fan of steampunk and the salvage filled world found in Paolo Bacigulupi's Ship Breaker, than you'll appreciate the similarities in Railsea. And anyone who enjoys classic works of literature, especially Herman Melville's Moby Dick or Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, will also enjoy Sham Yes ap Soorap's adventure across the railsea. So, to make a long story short, Railsea has a little something for everyone.
In a nutshell, Railsea is a nod to the classic, Moby Dick. But instead of a maritime setting where whaling ships rule the seas, Sham's world is a sea of railroad tracks, crisscrossing the land in a tangled jungle of iron. Rising above are islands, pockets of land where cities have been established like the seaports of old. But below the rails, deep in the ground, are fantastic creatures, burrowing animals that have grown to monstrous sizes, like the great southern moldywarpe. These are the animals Sham and his moletrain, the Medes, hunt in the railsea. In other words: incredible world building.
But that is not just what Railsea is about. In fact there are many different layers to the story, complex layers in fact, but I'll leave the deconstruction of Railsea to those more qualified. Suffice to say, this is a very smart read, a book that will make you think, and Miéville is able to do this in such a fashion it never felt too heavy handed or hard to comprehend (tying in to my rant above!) That is the genius of Miéville. For me, however, Railsea is Sham's story, a story about his desire for knowledge, and the adventure that follows in his quest for it.
I love the character of Sham, though I will admit it wasn't love at first sight. As the assistant to the physician aboard the moletrain Medes, where he lives and works, it took me a bit of time to warm up to him. But I think what I liked most about him was that even though he had a pretty cool gig, traveling to distant lands looking for moldywarpes, he's still not satisfied with the cards he has been dealt. Sham wants more. He longs to become a salvor, one of the many who scour the earth in search of all types of salvage: nu-salvage, and arche-salvage (the salvage of the distant past, i.e. our time, and Sham's favorite) and even alt-salvage, which is off -Terran, in other words, not from our planet. Sham longs for adventure and discovery. Well, he finds it, in more ways than one.
In addition to Sham there are a host of incredible characters featured in Railsea including the captain of the Medes, Naphi, who endlessly tracks her philosophy, her only system of belief, an obsession with the great moldywarpe Mocker Jack. Naphi, a modern day Captain Ahab, is complex and so well written, she's easily one of my favorite characters in Railsea. Aboard the Medes, there are memorable characters at every turn: Sham's trainmates Dr. Fremlo, Vurinam, Benightly and Mbendy to name a few. Miéville introduces the reader to the the salvor Sirocco, and the pirate Robalson, and the siblings Caldera and Dero, who harbor a secret that Sham can't resist. And lets not forget the vast assortment of animals we encounter along the way. From the massive great southern moldywarpe Mocker Jack, to Sham's pet daybat, Daybe, it's in the creation of these amazing animals, both endearing and horrific, where Miéville really shines.
I had heard that there were some beautiful illustrations in Railsea, and even though I had the electronic version of the text, I was stoked to see that they were still included. Maps and illustrations in books are such a cool treat. And cooler yet is that these have been drawn by the author himself.
|The Great Southern Moldywarpe|
|Naked Mole Rat|
Sometimes it's not easy to read Railsea. The names are strange, and hard to pronounce, and the setting seems so familiar yet so different at the same time. As I navigated my way through the start of the book I was reminded of Lewis Carroll's Jabberwockey, the language was so odd, the names almost like nonsense words (moldywarpe), yet it didn't take me too long to get a feel for it and decipher the meanings. I have to also mention that the writing style itself confused me a bit. You see the word and is never written out. Never. Instead an ampersand (&) is used in it's place. & I mean the entire length of the book. I was unsure if this was intentional or if this was something only present in my electronic galley version. But later in the book, Miéville actually offers an explanation as to why this occurs. I think Miéville might employ tactics like this as a way to pace the reader, and to always keep fresh in their minds, as it was in mine, that this world in which Sham lives is distinctly different and other from our own.
Another thing I loved about Railsea was Miéville's "breaking of the fourth wall," when a character, or the narrator in this case, addresses the reader directly (think Jane Eyre, when Jane addresses the audience with "Dear Reader.") Here Miéville uses this device to slow the down the action, at times stopping it all together and backtracking in the story. I LOVE when an author employs this device, it makes me feel like I'm not just reading a book, but am instead experiencing the story as if it were being read to me.
And that's what reading Railsea was like. Like sitting around a circle and an elder telling me this fantastic adventure. Or like your grandpa, sitting at your bedside, reading you chapters of this magical story that you know you will remember for the rest of your life. Stories you'll read to your children and grandchildren one day.
Kind of like this:
Check out more about author China Miéville on his website HERE.
Check out some more reviews of Railsea:
Bunbury in the Stacks
Into the Hall of Books
The Book Smugglers