28 May 2014

Railsea - China Miéville [book review]

Railsea by China Miéville
Published by Pan Macmillan
Paperback - 376 pages
Published 1st May 2012
Review copy given by publisher
Passed the Lemon Law in July 2013

In A Nutshell

Railsea is a pseudo-steampunk re-imagining of Moby Dick. Sham ap Soorap, a semi-competent doctor’s apprentice aboard a moletrain, risks his life and the lives of those around him so he can follow a mysterious brother and sister to the end of the world … literally.

What Worked

Sham doesn’t seem to ever catch a break – from the moment he steps off his moletrain, it’s a case of “out of the frying pan, and into the fire” all the way for him. This lets Miéville keep the pace clipped and the tension up as Sham tries to seek out his destiny and not get killed in the process.

If there’s one thing Miéville does well, it’s in crafting something quite unique. The world of the Railsea is a combination of steampunk, post-apocalyptic and alternate-earth, with Miéville only scratches the surface on the history and culture of its inhabitants. I’d definitely be up for a sequel, prequel or spin-off tale set in the same world.

From the moletrains to the pirates who anchor at Manihiki, to the nomadic wind-powered trains, there’s a hell of a lot of potential for this universe.

What Didn’t Work

Miéville’s style for waxing lyrical between chapters started to get old quickly and it felt more and more jarring each time chapters were interrupted with a “look how clever I’m being right now” moment. It was this that first put me off Kraken, and the story could have done without it here.

In Short

Railsea is a gripping tale with a superb voice and tons of action. It might get a bit self-indulgent in places, but it’s definitely worth a read.

Would I Recommend It?

If you like something a little unique and very quirky on your bookshelf, then pick up a copy of Railsea.

About Jamie
Jamie Gibbs is a life-long geek and leans towards anything with sorcery, dragons or obscure pop culture references.
You can follow him on his Google+ or Twitter profiles for a daily dose of fanboy discourse.


  1. I admit I've never read any of Miéville's works.

    1. His style is good, though I think he takes getting used to.

  2. It sounds interesting. It's also interesting that he's seems to have develop a signature style that puts you off. The same thing happen with a series of books I read. It was loaded with metaphors (like two a page for THE ENTIRE BOOK) I couldn't even read the second after I saw the first metaphor in the first paragraph. It's too bad. The books were actually good but the overuse of metaphor was exhausting and forced.

    1. That's a shame. It wasn't too bad with Railsea; it would be every couple of chapters that it would break from the story to describe the narrative process, which took away all the immersion of the book.

  3. Sounds fun! I keep meaning to read some of her books. Hope your Friday is awesome!

    1. Actually, China's a he :) Still, I hope you get to read some of his work soon :)

  4. I tried out the audio last year and I couldnt do it but I still definitely want to read the book. Maybe I'll revisit the audio it wasn't bad I just might not have been in the mood for it you know? I do like quirky but not always the "look how clever I'm being"

    1. Honestly? That was its only flaw - I loved the story and the characters, so I'd say give it another shot :)


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