On board the moletrain Medes, Sham Yes ap Soorap watches in awe as he witnesses his first moldywarpe hunt. The giant mole bursting from the earth, the harpoonists targeting their prey, the battle resulting in one’s death & the other’s glory are extraordinary. But no matter how spectacular it is, travelling the endless rails of the railsea, Sham senses that there’s more to life. Even if his captain can think only of her obsessive hunt for one savage mole.
When they find a wrecked train, it’s a welcome distraction. But the impossible salvage Sham finds there leads to trouble. Soon he’s hunted on all sides: by pirates, trainsfolk, monsters & salvage-scrabblers. & it might not be just Sham’s life that’s about to change. It could be the whole of the railsea.
4 / 5 stars
Railsea is a young adult adventure story with a steampunk vibe, a Moby Dick retelling set in a dystopian future. The sea has been replaced with railway lines, ships with trains, and whales with giant moles that burrow through the ground.
China Mieville has reigned in his darker, grittier side, but not by as much as you might have imagined. I feel he strikes just the right balance for a young adult audience – they’re not daft and they don’t need to be sheltered from the realities of life but also the more twisted side of his writing has been left out. The book makes sense and is easy to follow without having to think too hard about it.
His sense of humour is front and centre though, he uses Moby Dick as an influence but also pokes fun at it at the same time. Each train captain has their nemesis mole, the one they feel compelled to hunt down and destroy, but what happens when two captains claim the same nemesis?
The story follows Sham, a teenager / young man who is looking for his purpose in life. He can’t settle to anything but sees joining a moler train as a way to feed his need for adventure.
I loved reading about life on the moler trains and I found it easy to lose myself in the world of Railsea. The Moby Dick influence is used as a starting point but it doesn’t feel like it confines or directs the story, it quickly breaks out into a tale of its own. There are a lot of other references to stories like Robinson Crusoe dropped in along the way too, picking them out is half the fun of the book!
My favourite characters: the Shaokes, twin inventors who are building their own train in a determined bid to go out and search for their lost parents. Meeting these two kicks Sham off on the adventure he’s always wanted as he joins them on their search. They also bring a lot more of the steampunk vibe in, which I love! In an alternate reality, I could imagine myself as a Shoake.
I read this on my honeymoon and finished it in less than a day. There’s a lot in here for adults too, it has youngish characters but it could just have easily been filed in the adult category. I was super excited to read it and I wasn’t disappointed at all.
Railsea is as odd, inventive and strange as I’ve come to expect from China Mieville and I recommend to anyone who likes adventures, steampunk and a bit of weirdness.