China Mieville has a real talent for describing worlds and this is obvious even from his debut novel, King Rat. The first chapter describes a train trip through London and having only been to London twice, back in 2008, I was instantly transported back and remembering things I’d long forgotten. Set in the late 1990s (and it was published in 1998), King Rat is about a young man named Saul whose father is brutally murdered and he is quickly implicated into a dark, centuries old rivalry between King Rat and a being with the ability to seduce and hypnotise people and animals by playing a flute. Ring any bells?
While King Rat is not as smoothly written as his later works, it’s clear Mieville has that spark every great author has. Reading this novel on a camping trip by the light of a head torch, with the night pressing in around me, I was delightfully thrilled and disturbed in equal measures. The shadowy corners of London are explored in loving detail and the fantastic elements are integrated neatly into a contemporary world. I still prefer his later novels, especially The City and the City and Un Lun Dun, but I still would recommend it for lovers of London, and those fascinated with creatures that lurk (and bite!) in the dark.