In China Mieville's wildly inventive science fiction/fantasy take on Moby Dick, earth and water are reversed. No one may step on the terrifying land lest they immediately be munched by some predatory creature tunneling up from below. Luckily, the railsea is covered in train tracks and traversed by a multitude of trains - including the moler train Medes, which hunts giant moles and is captained by a woman obsessed with the great ivory-colored mole that bit off her arm.

This was probably the most purely enjoyable book I've read all year. That being said, it's a love-it-or-hate-it novel - it has a very distinctive and odd prose style, bizarre (awesomely bizarre!) worldbuilding, and lots of metafictional authorial intrusions into the text. But if you've always liked the sound of China Mieville's worldbuilding but don't like grimdark, this is the book for you - all the worldbuilding, none of the grim. (Spoiler: the cute pet survives.) Also, you don't need to have read Moby Dick (I haven't) but a number of things are much funnier if you know the general outlines of the story.

Railsea is packed full of cool details, fascinating beasts, and sense of wonder. The worldbuilding is wacky but logical on its own terms, and the world keeps unfolding and unfolding, revealing more and more secrets and marvels. The ending is the logical outcome of everything that came before, and perfectly so: a succession of satisfying revelations leading up to a final image that made me grin until my face nearly cracked. (Not the thing about the bill, that fell flat; I mean everything else.) Tons of little details which at first seem annoying (like the use of & instead of "and") or throwaways turn out to be there for a purpose - worldbuilding, thematic, or just a running joke. (I cannot believe that Mieville actually managed to sell me on the ampersand, which annoyed me immensely when I began reading.)

Railsea repeatedly made me laugh out loud, sometimes at the author stepping in to give the readers a head-up about the plot, sometimes from events in the story itself. And though the hero is a boy, it has tons of women and girls in the supporting cast - so many that it made me realize just how unusual that is in most science fiction novels.

I didn't like Mieville's other kids' book, Un Lun Dun, but I absolutely loved Railsea. Highly recommended. I suggest that you give it some time if the style and metafiction put you off at first - it took me a little while to warm up to it, but I ended up falling in love. I would also advise against knowing too much going in. A lot of the fun is discovering all the little details for yourself. Also, be aware that the beginning, though not super-graphic, is gorier than the rest of the book.

By the way, this did not read at all YA to me, so also don't be put off if you don't generally like YA. It's more of a playful adult novel with a young protagonist. Though I could also see it being a good read-aloud.


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