An urban fantasy set in London, China Miéville’s debut novel King Rat tells the story of Saul Garamond, the Prince of Rats. Unfortunately for London’s rats, the Pied Piper of Hamelin has recently come to town.
Saul returns home from a camping trip to find his stepfather murdered. Before he knows what’s happening, Saul meets the King of Rats and is inducted into the seedy underbelly of London — an underbelly fit for a king of rats. Under King Rat’s care, Saul learns to eat garbage and climb walls. He discovers his “rat strength.”
Unfortunately, Saul’s new powers come with a few responsibilities.
It turns out that the Piper is hunting King Rat. The Piper controls the minds of his victims using his flute. When the Piper joins forces with drum & bass DJ Natasha, he finds a way to control not only animals but humans as well. Joined by Anansi, King of Spiders, and Loplop, King of Birds, King Rat and Saul are forced to explore their relationship while battling the Piper.
Miéville’s debut contains many of the ingredients of his later work, including an unusual urban setting, a revisionist approach to fantasy, and an original vocabulary. As we might expect, Miéville tosses in a few great ideas, my favorite here being the rebellion of the rats against their king. Compared to other urban fantasies, King Rat feels hip and adult, perhaps because Miéville focuses on drum & bass culture as much as he does on rat powers and life in the sewers.
Many readers will approach King Rat in the hopes of reading something more akin to Miéville’s later work, and these readers may find themselves a little disappointed. However, urban fantasy fans will find a great deal to love in King Rat. Though King Rat may not be as exciting and “weird” as his later novels, China Miéville was already off to a good start when he wrote King Rat.