Published May 15, 2012 by Del Ray (Macmillan)
eARC from NetGalley
After its slow start, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this coming-of-age story set on an ocean of train tracks. This imaginative world brings new life to an old story.
Railsea is kind of like Moby Dick if Moby Dick took place on a sea of train tracks with lots of creepy creatures that want to kill you and pirates and also a search for a mythical place. Um. It's probably not that much like Moby Dick, but it does sort of start out looking like it. Sham ap Soorap is the greenest member of the crew of the moletrain the Medes, which hunts the giant moldywarpes. Captain Naphi wants one moldywarpe in particular, the elusive ivory Mocker-Jack. The hunt leads to Sham's stumbling across pictures that change his worldview and have the potential to change the whole world of the railsea.
At first I really didn't think I was going to like this book. It started off very slowly, and while I'm perfectly okay with not having worlds really explained, I didn't feel like I had a sense of what was going on at all. But then around a quarter of the way through I found myself trying to sneak in pages whenever I could, delaying getting of the train to work, and totally caught up in the story. The world is really fascinating, and you do eventually get a good picture of how things work and how it became that way. (On a side note, the ampersands, while annoying, do have a purpose which is explained about halfway through.)
Although this book is classified as YA, it's not as obviously YA as, say, Hex Hall or Saving Francesca. It is something of a coming-of-age story, and part of it is Sham discovering what he wants and what his life will be. However, there's virtually no romance, no high school drama, or any of the other things you'd normally expect from a YA book. It's really hard to categorize this book at all – I listed it as steampunk, but it doesn't really have the same feel as other steampunks I've read. Let's just say it's a coming-of-age scifi, which is probably about as close as you can get.
Sham has no idea what he wants in life, but he does feel vaguely dissatisfied with what he has. Gradually, he grows and finds a purpose, a journey that's quite well-done and believable. The rest of the limited cast doesn't show as much development, for the most part, but they're interesting characters.
This book is about the unknown and exploration, which made for a great story. I kind of felt like I should be listening to the Star Trek intro voiceover while I read it ("These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise..."). Despite my initial reservations, I ended up liking it a lot. While I have Perdido Street Station on my Kindle and have read a few pages, this was my first full China Miéville book, so I guess I'll have to suck it up and read some more of his books now!