Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Dark Tales Review: Railsea

RAILSEA by China Mieville
Ahoy!Not only have I come across a YA novel that doesn't write down to the teen level, it challenges them with a post-modern awareness of all the grand sea adventures that preceded it. Here oceans are desert wastelands littered with twisted railroad ties and rusted salvage, the ships that sail them, trains. At first glance Railsea is a steampunk reimagining of Melville's Moby Dick. You wouldn't be entirely wrong if you replace the white whale with a massive mole. Replace Ahab with a female sea captain named Miss Naphi and you're even closer. Her arm has been replaced with robotics, the arm rumored to be taken by the great pale, sound familiar? But as the first line declares (and reverberates throughout) this is really about something else altogether.
Mieville has been awarded so many accolades in the realm of science fiction he needed to build an alternate world just to fit them all. His master craft is etched on each page. His reverence for storytelling and his respect for the power of word guides his hand throughout. His splendid asides weave the multiple story lines together. There is even a chapter that explains his use of an ampersand (&) to replace any use of the word and in the novel relating it to the twisted rails and the twisted world his characters navigate) Throughout the narrator reminds you that you are being told a tale and he is at the helm.
The main character is Sham Yes ap Soorap, a boy fated to be a doctor's assistant on a moler's ship. His melancholy comes from his knowing that he was meant for more than what he had been instructed to accept. The malaise sparks curiosity and finally courage as he comes to the aid of the Shroake twins who are also searching for meaning in their lives. Where they are destined to search will lead them to the far reaches of the Railsea towards treasure, Heaven or possibly their ruination.
Mieville fleshes out a most impossible world.What starts as a laundry list of set pieces; mechanisms, life forms, and terrain seems neverending until all the details congeal into a fleshed out post apocalyptic hellscape.
Sham as our innocent guide leads us towards redemption. In a world where a captain's obsession is considered a philosophy it is a thrill to what this unabashed boy become a man developing a philosophy of his own, an ideal more human than iconic in its focus. Did I mention the are pirates? Yes! A great read for anyone who wants a swashbuckler  they can chew on, a tale that reads like at any moment it could bite back. P.S.- This book will make you to befriend a pet bat. The daybat may be the true hero here.
THINK: Moby Dick as written by, well, Mieville directed by Ridley Scott.
1st LINE – “This is the story of a blood-stained boy.”

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