Saturday, 22 September 2012

The Corpse Rat King by Lee Battersby

The Corpse Rat King is the debut novel from the prolific Australian short story writer Lee Battersby. Released at the end of August by Angry Robot, a copy of this novel was provided for review by the publisher.

My first impression, when I started reading The Corpse Rat King, was that it wasn't a book for me. It contains more toilet humour than I generally like (although I hasten to mention it's not what I'd call a comedy) and I didn't find the protagonist particularly sympathetic. And there weren't any proper (more than a few scenes) female characters. However, I didn't find it badly written either so I pressed on and it picked up.

Marius is a scoundrel. The novel opens with him robbing corpses on a battlefield (hence the title) and treating his apprentice like an idiot. But when he steals the fallen king's crown then plays dead to avoid repercussions, the dead (in the more general sense than just of the battlefield) mistake him for the king and demand he rule over them. Panicked, he refuses and instead they charge him with the quest of finding them a replacement king. At first he tries to run away from this task but eventually he gets on with it.

I warmed to Marius when we learnt about his past. In the present, he starts out as a somewhat terrible person, but I gained sympathy for him when he started learning life lessons and coming to stark realisations. It was actually the introduction of his long-suffering sort-of-girlfriend which made me keep reading through to the end. She doesn't feature much in person, but I like that she became a driving force for his motivations once he realised he might not ever get to win her back.

The world building was fairly detailed. The actual setting was quite broad in terms of the variety of places mentioned (sometimes in passing). It seemed like Battersby had thought up a complete world, even though the action only took place in small parts of it. There's no map, but at times I found myself wanting one, not because it was integral to the main action, but because I was curious as to where the places mentioned in passing were. There was a tendency in Battersby's writing to go off on descriptive tangents to set a new scene, which also added to the world building, although I found they were perhaps a bit too numerous overall.

As I said at the start, this isn't a bad book, but it's not for me for reasons of content rather than style. I don't doubt that other people will enjoy it much more than I did and so I recommend it to anyone who thinks they might enjoy a book filled with walking corpses, excrement (in the most literal sense) and a quest.

3.5 / 5 stars

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