I haven’t read too many of the “gritty fairy tale reboot” genre, and I didn’t know when I started this that that’s what I was getting. China Mieville book? Sign me up! Gritty story about the Pied frakkin’ Piper? What the hell? But China didn’t let me down.
The outline of the story is very familiar: protagonist gets in a scrape, finds out he’s important or chosen in some way, learns new skills and gets new allies, faces Big Bad. But it’s all told with China’s signature intensity and weirdness, set in London’s sewers and Jungle dance music scene. Protagonist Saul finds out he’s related to King Rat, and has ratlike abilities to move unseen through the city. King Rat needs his help to defeat the Piper, who has been tormenting the rats, the spiders (led by Anansi, natch), and the birds (led by Loplop) for centuries. The Piper can control them all, but since Saul is neither totally human nor totally rat, the Piper’s tunes can’t control him.
The Piper is one of those bad guys who’s evil for the sake of being evil, so there’s not a lot of background or motivation there, but the dude is scary. He goes through Saul’s friends, torturing and killing and hunting for Saul, until he finds and mesmerizes Natasha. Natasha is a DJ who mixes her own tracks (I feel so square even writing that), and the Piper finds a way to get his nefarious music out to wider audiences. This ups the stakes very effectively, and the final battle is intense. (And gross. If you have problems with spiders or rats, avoid this book!)
As always, I like China’s original worlds better, but I liked Saul, and this one of the better London-based books I’ve read so far.