Sep 4, 2012

[Books] The Corpse Rat King

Today's book review is once again due to the Angry Robot Army review program in support of the Angry Robot Books line of genre fiction books including fantasy and science fiction titles. This was one of my first eARCs outside of the Chuck Wendig books and it certainly provided an interesting reading experience.

Now I'll admit that this book is a bit outside my normal reading range, in a manner of speaking. While I do read quite a number of fantasy books, I tend to favor more traditional sword & sorcery types that are quest-centric adventures. And while there is a quest at the center of this story, I don't think anyone would make the mistake of calling our protagonist some sort of hero.

So this was one was a quirky book to try out, but then that's what reading is all about, right? One of the biggest reasons that I signed up for the Angry Robot Army was precisely to attempt to expand my reading options and experience new authors that I probably wouldn't normally venture into otherwise.

It's all quite the learning experience.

Synopsis: The Corpse Rat King is the debut novel of Lee Battersby. Released by Angry Robot Books just this month, it is a unique venture into a world of darker fantasy.

The focus of our tale is one Marius Hellespont - a con man, thief and currently battlefield looter (hence corpse rat) and a generally pleasant fellow. While scouring a recent battlefield together with his young assistant Gerd, Marius manages to stumble upon the body of the King of Scorby. But the looters are eventually spotted and Gerd is killed while Marius evades capture by pretending to be dead.

But them his act fools more than just the King's men. Due to mistaken identity (since he was carrying the crown), Marius gets dragged down into the underworld where he is made King of the Dead. But when they realize that Marius is actually alive, they end up sending him back to the world of the living with a single mission - to find them a new kind or he'll truly join them as one of the dead. Thus he is dispatched on this odd quest of his with only his dead assistant Gerd for company.

Now Marius is a strange protagonist. He's not exactly the charming rogue (e.g. Han Solo), in fact he's pretty despicable. The book does start with him watching as Gerd is killed only in order to save his own life after all. And he resists his dark quest practically every step of the way, thus it does not feel like he's all that determined to succeed despite the loss of his heartbeat (as described in the book). I guess my challenge is that he's not very likable and that sort of annoys me throughout the book.

Now what does make the book unique is how they manifest Marius' weird both alive and yet dead state of being as he travels around. It seems that his brain persists in remembering his needs as a living person and thus he occasionally feels pain and focuses on the need to breathe and such. And yet other times he embraces how he is also dead and thus he can survive under some pretty extreme conditions plus he appears to be something related to a zombie. This shifting back and forth is eventually towards the very end of the book, but it does make for a lot of confusion throughout things.

The story is straightforward enough - Marius needs to find a dead king to bring back with him to the underworld and yet he'd rather just try to run away from the dead entirely. And this is weird since he hates appearing like a dead man to everyone but this complication doesn't exactly add motivation for him find a king sooner instead of later.

And I really feel bad for Gerd since he tries so hard but of course he just gets constantly hoodwinked and abused by Marius. And that sort of makes sense given Marius' criminal nature, but that's about it.

Pacing of the book could have been a lot better. I feel that far too often Marius stops to give the reader a Discovery Channel style overview of where they are at present or the history of a certain practice. It's all nicely informative but it does present Marius as being a lot more educated than you'd give him credit for but it also means a lot of meandering around the kingdom's history without any true long term benefits for us as readers. And that really made getting through the book more difficult than it should have been. All that meandering around the history of each location just felt odd, especially coming from Marius as a character.

The Corpse Rat King is still an interesting book but not exactly my cup of tea. I feel this may be more about individual opinion more than anything else so I wouldn't be surprised if peopel who enjoy this sort of genre fiction might end up liking the book a lot more than I did. So the book still rates 2 cases of Marius running away from his quest without any thought for the future out of a possible 5.

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