When it comes to protagonists, I tend to have an aversion to vice-ridden characters with afflictions they can’t escape.
That’s why I was surprised to find Marius, the leading man in Lee Battersby’s The Corpse-Rat King, so damn charming.
Published by Angry Robot Books, The Corpse-Rat King‘s Marius is a
pickpocket thief scoundrel graverobber drunk womanizer corpse-rat; one who gathers spoils of war off the bodies of fallen soldiers following battles.
When Marius and his partner, Gerd, are caught stealing from the corpse of the freshly-slain King of Scorby, they are slain themselves and sent to the realm of the unliving.
(Well, it’s a bit more complicated than all that, but gotta save something for the reading experience, right?)
Marius is mistaken for a king by the dead who desperately desire a ruler. But when they find out the truth, they don’t simply set Marius free–instead they charge him with a quest to bring them back a king. Either that or Marius stays not quite alive and not quite dead for eternity.
Hilarity ensues, in the most endearing way possible.
Let’s be clear about something: this novel is so far out of my comfort zone, reading-wise, I was almost afraid to start it.
1) I don’t do well with the living dead.
2) Less-than-squeaky-clean heroes turn me off.
3) Medieval settings put me to sleep.
4) I shy away from cursing, gore, and anything with entrails.
Now that you know how boring I am, let’s get back to why this novel surprised me: I was honest-to-God laughing out loud at the gags in this book while simultaneously rooting for the sleazy main character to win his freedom.
Why? Thanks to some damn fine writing by Mr. Battersby.
This is really one of those great reads that picks you up, holds you captive, and drops you off promptly at your destination wishing you could get back on the bus.
It starts with one of the most engrossing opening paragraphs I’ve ever read. It introduces an interesting character, with a “job” so fascinating that I settled on the fact that I might just be hearing about his profession for 300+ pages, then hits you so quickly with a plot so fantastical, so imaginative, that you have to stand up just so you can sit back down!
The Corpse-Rat King is an impressive read in that it hits two major nails on the head simultaneously: Establishing an intriguing past for its protagonist slowly and purposefully, while driving the story forward with a series of madcap quests that leave you wondering just who will be King of the Dead by the end of the ride.
Seriously, every time Marius comes up with a new scheme, you have no idea how he’s going to come out the other end. You’ll be counting remaining pages wondering if this particular plan will pan out, or if that’s the new King.
But you won’t know until the very end.
Along the way, Mr. Battersby paints such a vivid world with a rich history all its own, complete with legends, famous shipwrecks, origin stories, and even card games completely unique to this tale.
Part History textbook, part Monty Python, and part epic fantasy, The Corpse-Rat King surprised the hell out of me. You will honestly laugh, cry, and experience the whole range in between.
Can’t wait for Round 2, Mr. Battersby. Thanks for a truly fulfilling novel.