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Rats and Gargoyles

(White Crow Sequence #1)

3.57  ·  Rating details ·  467 ratings  ·  28 reviews
It is a nameless city somewhere between past and future, a mythic realm at the "heart of the world," where wicked Rat Lords have reduced all humankind to slaves, and god-daemons make the decision to end all existence. This energizes a compelling quest for survival, and prompts the powerful White Crow to order an uprising against this chaotic strike that threatens them all. ...more
Paperback, 477 pages
Published October 6th 1992 by Roc (first published July 1990)
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Average rating 3.57  · 
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Tama Wise
Jun 07, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people who like different and well imagined worlds
I read this book back in 1994 when it first came out and I fell in love with it. I remember not really understanding what went on in the second half of the novel. Now that I have with me only the books I love the mostest, I've reread it, mostly because I have nothing else to read! I wondered if being older would let me understand the ending any better.


I believe this is one of Mary Gentle's first. Shes a great and gritty author, but I think she 'gets better' in her later books. The plot of th
May 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is complex and, as other reviewers have noted, difficult to understand. I don't pretend to understand it myself. However, it is my seminal novel, one I have read repeatedly from my early teenage years until now, and which has influenced a lot of my own work. It is a rich concoction of bizarre concepts, many extracted from history (the Invisible College, the concept of a Rat King, the hanging of a pig for murder) and extended using Mary Gentle's now well known approach to historical alt ...more
Eleanor With Cats
Mary Gentle has been quoted as describing this novel by saying "there are jokes... that only three people in the world will understand and one of them is dead. This is not an apology." This pretty much says it all really.

I love it.

I can't decide whether I want to be Casaubon or the White Crow when I grow up.

Edit: I have decided that the perfect way to describe Mary Gentle is that she's the British female counterpart to Avram Davidson.
Viki Holmes
Dec 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Oh, but this was a thing of beauty. I have read too many steampunk-sci-fi-fantasy worlds of late that have been all mouth and no trousers, but Mary Gentle never fails to create believable worlds out of the truly fantastic. Inspired by alchemical writings, Rats and Gargoyles reads like an intricate puzzle box that challenges, delights and infuriates. Normally I gobble books up, but this one I had to take my time over. The theory and playful intellect of this book balanced out by characters I care ...more
Jan 19, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think China Mieville must have read this when he was younger - there is much about this that screams "Perdido Street Station". Fairly Gothic, steampunky urban fantasy with mysterious deific figures, multiple races, scientist-mages and so on. A bit confusing as to what is going on a lot of the time, but books like this are about the journey not the destination. 3/5
Simon Mcleish
Aug 24, 2012 rated it liked it
Originally published on my blog here in September 2000.

Hermetic philosophy - that is, strictly speaking, following the ideas in the occult writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus - has played a role in some for the best novels of the second half of the twentieth century, including Lawrence Durrell's The Avignon Quintet and John Fowles' The Magus. This resurgence of interest is related to an increased, open, interest in the occult, exploited by figures such as Alastair Crowley. These things we
Aug 17, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A depressed god could cure himself if only he willed it; but he rots away in the heart of the cathedral while the city is in turmoil. Humanity plots to overthrow its masters.
Althea Ann
Jun 09, 2010 rated it really liked it
I'd read the "companion" book to this one, 'The Architecture of Desire' quite some time ago, and wasn't aware that this story was linked!

It's a darkly inventive, complex but rewarding book... Gentle's prose is of the sort that you have to pay close attention to keep track of what's going on... it's dense, the plot is convoluted, and many things are merely hinted at or implied - Gentle took the old adage, "show, don't tell" seriously in writing class!

Lucas, a foreign prince, has arrived in the ci
Jan 22, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf-fantasy
Starts well with a dramatic, atmospheric and very visual opening scene. And kind of goes downhill from there.
Gentle is great at descriptions, although this can also get very repetitive and distracting. I lost count of the number of times characters' hair and clothing was described, for no real reason, and always using the same words (copper or cinnamon, depending on the character), and when the world is collapsing I don't really need to read the details of the colour and texture of the crumbling
Mar 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: le-fantastique
A very cool book that, sadly, doesn't maintain its narrative drive. Nonetheless, a terrifically realized and unique fantasy setting - I pictured a sort of twisted 18th century sans-cullotes Paris with rodent overlords and working magic. There's also a character who, I realized many pages in, has a tail! You really have to peer into the story's corners, as it were, to see how detailed and clever Gentle's world-building is. For me, the story achieved a kind of fantasy fiction hyperdrive with a sce ...more
Jan 12, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy
complice forse (probabilmente, direi) una traduzione che m'è parsa zoppa, dopo una partenza da brividi mi son perso a metà, faticando non poco a trovare il bandolo della matassa. sono rimasto con la sensazione di un sacco di ottime idee non sviluppate, e di un sacco di pagine messe lì a far numero.
nonostante tutto, resta la sensazione che l'autrice sia da tenere in considerazione, e il libro prima o poi da riprendere in mano per vedere l'effetto che fa.
Joe Crow
Mar 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Another re-read. First got this when it was first published, back in the day; and it's one of the ones that I re-read on a fairly regular basis. Still an excellent, inventive, and unique fantasy; really not enough people doing hermetic renaissance fantasy. There's Mary Gentle, and Michaela Roessner, ... and that was about it, really. Hmm.
Brown Robin
This story flummoxed me. But I am stupid, so don't let that dissuade you from reading it. It is definitely interesting: weird and unique. It's a bit too long, and there are some actiony parts that maybe don't accomplish everything they attempt. I hope you enjoy it; I didn't.
Aug 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy
This book reads like a fever-dream you might have if you had been reading Hermeticism and Freemasonry. I see some people have been puzzled by it, but to me it made sense, if only dream-sense. I immediately downloaded "The Architecture of Desire" because I need more of White Crow and Casaubon.
Veronica Lindsey
Feb 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
Lots going on in this one. Got confused sometimes. Interesting ideas though.
Oct 26, 2020 rated it it was ok
P. Kirby
Disappointing. Maybe because it had an overabundance of Rats and a sad dearth of Gargoyles*.

In an unnamed city ruled by Rat Lords and Gargoyle gods (Decans), revolution is brewing. Humans, at the bottom rung of the status level, are eager for change, tired of system that prevents them from engaging in any commerce outside of barter, and tired of the prohibition against carrying weapons. The Rats--yes, huge, walking, talking anthropomorphic rats--are weary of the Gargoyle's rule. The Rats' precis
Nick Tramdack
May 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
"Government is a hard art, harder than your /magia/."

Very hard to summarize this complicated and challenging fantasy, but it's more than worth the effort.

Mary Gentle is out of control!

Also here are some Internet Archive stored posts by Gentle that may give you some insights into her extraordinary techniques.

I just can't wait to read The Architecture of Desire.
Kadja Draenor
May 19, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Adults who like very non-typical fantasy that streatches the mind
This was a fascinating book. I dont think most people would like it, but I definitely did. It is a different, gritty sort of fantasy setting, with a lot of detail and some explicit content. The thing I liked the most about it is that the book seems to be written in 5 dimensions(not just the normal 4).
Jul 23, 2016 rated it did not like it
hard to tell what's going on most of the time. pronouns are used more than the character's actual name, so most of the time I was trying to figure out who was doing or saying what.
it feels like listening to someone narrating a TV show while they're watching it, except they're so engrossed in the show that they've forgotten you can't see it.
Jun 14, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy, fiction
Good book. its a genre I have never really delved into before. I'm not even sure how I got the book, but I read it one day because I didn't have anything else to read. It was different, but I really enjoyed it.
Aug 06, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy
I read this book a long time ago, but I remember finding it was interesting but very confusing until the end, and then it seemed to make sense.
Sep 09, 2010 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf-fantasy
*note to self. Copy from A.
Amanda (awesome)
giving up
Vast, vast imagery. Universal crime. Convincing portrayals of gods. Hermetic magic and architecture. Swashbuckling and conspiracies.
What more could anyone want? The woman is a genius!
May 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An amazing, expansive story. The last one third of the book is a sustained tour-de-force.
Jan 02, 2015 rated it liked it
Much harder to get into the second time round – missing reading it on Kindle. But still a very intelligent book, elegantly written with intriguing characters.
Hadleigh Garrard
rated it really liked it
Nov 11, 2011
Vicky Maybury
rated it liked it
Jan 14, 2013
rated it really liked it
Jan 16, 2011
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This author also writes under the pseudonym of Roxanne Morgan

Excerpted from Wikipedia:
Mary Gentle's first published novel was Hawk in Silver (1977), a young-adult fantasy. She came to prominence with the Orthe duology, which consists of Golden Witchbreed (1983) and Ancient Light (1987).

The novels Rats and Gargoyles (1990), The Architecture of Desire (1991), and Left to His Own Devices (1994), tog

Other books in the series

White Crow Sequence (3 books)
  • The Architecture of Desire (White Crow Sequence #2)
  • Left to His Own Devices (White Crow Sequence #3)
  • White Crow (White Crow Sequence, #1-3)

News & Interviews

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“There comes a time’, the White Crow said, ‘when you can’t smell the air of any kind of a day without it bringing some other past day to mind. When that happens, you’re not old, but you’re no longer young.” 0 likes
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