The Corpse Rat King by Lee Battersby

(7.4/10) Weird, strange, and cynical with good doses of humour and charm.

The Dead need a King. Marius dos Hellespont will find them one. Just as soon as he stops running away.

Weird, strange, and cynical with good doses of humour and charm. That's probably the best way I can describe The Corpse Rat King, the debut novel from Lee Battersby, published by Angry Robot Books. Like most books from Angry Robot, The Corpse Rat King is based on a really cool idea and has an electric start. But like most author debuts from Angry Robot, The Corpse Rat King starts running out of steam about half way through before picking things up again for a big bang ending. Ultimately this is a charming booking and I think everyone who reads it will find at least one thing they like.

When corpse-rat Marius is blackmailed by the undead to find them a new king, he runs hard and fast, hoping he can get far enough away and stay out of their reach. But things are not so simple for Marius, he has been cursed to take on the characteristics of the dead, and the only way to lift the curse is to complete his quest.

I liked this story - Battersby creates a lot of new ideas from some dark themes, but contrasts them against a lighthearted method of presentation. This story felt at times like a collection of short stories tied together with an overarching story arc, which was cool at times, but caused a lot disruption to the flow of the book. That overarching story arc played second fiddle to the short stories, which I think impacted on my overall satisfaction at the conclusion of this story. It felt like it was simply a means for telling these entertaining discrete events. And that might work for you.

Marius is a bit of a dick as a person, and his character arc is all about becoming less of a dick and taking responsibility for his actions. I did find myself sympathising with his plight, but the choices he makes in response to his plight makes him a less than endearing character. But he has a very cynical sense of humour which will likely resonate with a lot of people and make Marius more likeable / relateable.

The writing here is different, with Battersby using a mix of omniscient and third limited viewpoints to tell his story. Often when Battersby starts narrating in omnicient, he goes off on random tangents that do some neat world building in support of the plot, but feel like those cut scenes from Family Guy. The writing uses a lot of modern colloquialisms, which makes the story more accessible but at the cost of an authentic secondary world building.

There are a lot of things to like in this debut novel from Battersby. If you are into weirdness and / or reprehensible knaves, I think you will get a real kick out of this story.

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