Out of all the young adult books I have read in 2012, by far, so far, the most memorable and most impressive has been Railsea. There is no way to explain this book in a way that will give the full impression of what it’s like without reading it, but I will try. Mieville has created a brand new futuristic world that is criss-crossed throughout by the Railsea, a system of railroad tracks that covers the whole surface of desert land. The rivers and lakes have been sucked dry, and there is only desert and miles up on miles of rails that intertwine and cross each other. The only method of transportation is by rail.
Because the ocean is a distant memory, instead of going out to sea, young men who want adventure join rail engines that maneuver the rails. In this world, we meet our hero, Sham am Soorap, a “cabin boy” with a rail group that is headed by Captain Naphi, who is on the hunt for her philosophie, (a name I take to mean arch nemesis) Mocker-Jack, the great white moldyworpe who is responsible for the loss of Naphi’s arm. Yes, you heart me right, indeed, this books is a futuristic working of Moby Dick by Herman Melville, although the two only have the slimmest framework in common, in my view.
Sham is contented enough to do his duties aboard the vehicle. He is a dutiful type of person, but his heart longs for adventure. He has more in common with the salvors, gypsy-like groups of people who collect old garbage and re-purpose it in inventive ways. He does not enjoy cutting up moles into bloody strips as the rest of the group does. He is a more sensitive soul.
One day, the captain needs his help. He is the only one small enough to fit into a small space on an abandoned engine, and Sham gets his first sniff of danger. While inside, he spots something unexpected–a camera with a picture of one single rail. Instantly, he has a new purpose in life. He wants to find out where this single rail is and what is at the end of it. This desire takes him on a coming of age journey where he will cross the railsea and encounter pirates, bandits, officers of the law who want to exploit him rather than help him, and two friends who will inspire him to break out of his mold. But don’t worry, even though Sham breaks away from his rail captain for a time, Captain Naphi is an important part of this story, as well as her blasted white mole.
Railsea is a delight. The type of adventure our parents read as children, but with a futuristic twist that will please the dystopian crowd. The language is daunting at first, as well as the fact that Mieville starts us off in this world with no explanation of where we are. We have to figure out as we go, what type of the world the railsea is and what type of people live in it. But it this challenge that makes Railsea a delight to read. I hope the Printz Award Committee gives it consideration. You can find Railsea by China Meiville in our catalog.