Stephanie Griffin's Reviews > Railsea

Railsea by China Miéville
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Jul 08, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites
Recommended for: everyone!
Read from June 21 to July 07, 2012

China Miéville might be a genius. His amazing talent certainly shines through in RAILSEA (2012, Del Rey Books), his YA mash-up of Fantasy / Science Fiction / Steampunk / Dystopia. The story follows young Shamus ‘Sham’ Yes ap Soorap in a revision of the MOBY DICK quest, first as a doctor’s assistant on a moletrain, and later on a journey to solve the mystery of the disappearance of Mr. and Mrs. Shroake, a husband and wife explorer team. Miéville's re-imagination of MOBY DICK is awesome. There is the ship now turned into a train, the same captains, and the sea now turned into soil, yet its an entirely different world.

“& as passersby passed by & the light continued to leak from the sky, Sham was certain the man’s presence was not coincidence.”

Sham’s world consists of hunters, scavengers, and pirates, who ride along a vast expanse of railways. To fall off onto the land besides the tracks ensures that you will be eaten by creatures that live on and under the caustic soil. The moletrain Medes’ narrow-focused Captain Naphi is seeking her ‘philosophy’ by hunting a certain moldywarpe by the name of Mocker-Jack. The general public lives on safer ‘islands’ of higher ground. Along the way Sham seeks two reclusive children, gets betrayed, acquires a pet, and witnesses battles with the strange, dangerous creatures in his world. Besides the Great Southern Moldywarpes, there are Burrowing Tortoises, Antlions, Blood Rabbits, Tundra Worms and more (Miéville has even included his own sketches of each!)

“Above them flew something nothing like a plane.”

Here is the genius of RAILSEA: the language Miéville uses. He substitutes some words and makes up a lot of others. They weave together melodically as the sentences trip across your tongue. They’re playful and fun and magical. People with names like Boyza Go Mbenday and places with names like Manihiki. There may be some sort of message in this tale, about society or religion or whatnot, but I prefer to take this book as purely a high-fueled adventure. I don’t want to overthink it; it’s just too much fun to read.

“& if,” he said, & his voice was suddenly chill & bony & metal & like the scuttling of a very bad insect, “you’d like not to be cut open & dangled over the side of this train & dragged along with your legs on the ground spilling blood everything under the flatearth can smell while we go slow enough for long, long miles that they can rise & eat you from the toes up & from the inside out, you know what you could do for me, Sham?

“Tell me where the Shroakes are going.”


The only tiny, tiny weakness I found was that I do wish we had a little more personality in the Shroake children, Caldera and Dero. Sham, on the other hand, is a typical youngster; he isn’t certain just who he wants to be and he makes his decisions as questions come up. To be sure, this results in a life of adventure.

Again, the strength lies in Miéville’s imagination and the way in which he plays with words:

“Out of the east & south the train came. It howled, it whistled, en route through & out of the known railsea. It breathed diesel breath. An everyday moletrain, transmogrified by urgency & peculiar direction into something more than itself, something grander, buckling of more swashes.”

I believe this is a considerably more entertaining book than MOBY DICK and highly recommend RAILSEA for all readers age 12 and up.
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