King Rat, China Miéville’s debut novel, is often ignored in discussion of his work. The reason for this is probably twofold: firstly, it is a fundamentally different type of fantasy novel to the Bas-Lag books which made his name; secondly, it isn’t very good. It was published in 1998 when Miéville was 26 and the world was a different place. Mornington Cresent is still a ghost station and mobile phones are not yet ubiquitous:
I’ll hold out a bit longer. I won’t be another black man with a mobile, another troublemaker with ‘Drug Dealer’ written on his forehead in script only the police can read.
The unnessassary italics and capitals are a recurring feature of the novel and suggest a lack of confidence. King Rat opens with an almost embarrassingly enthusiatic set of acknowledgements and from there on it is the rough and ready work of someone still finding their way. Saul returns to London to discover he is part rat and is drawn into the underground to discover his true nature. At the same time the Piper (as in Pied) is hunting down King Rat, who in turn believes Saul is the weapon he needs to deafeat him. There are several minimally sketched secondary viewpoint characters who waste time on the way but really it is just Saul blundering around, heading straight for the inevitable climatic showdown with the Piper. Old stories, modern gods, secret London; it shares a lot of its concerns with the work of Neil Gaiman, particularly Neverwhere (1996). It also clearly shows the direction Miéville was moving – if not his exact route – and it is no suprise it ends with a rat revolution but it isn’t worth picking up for any reason other than to see how he has come.