Portal to the Pages

A quick glimpse into my thoughts on various fiction

The Corpse-Rat King – Lee Battersby

on November 24, 2012
Book cover of "The Corpse-Rat King"

The Corpse-Rat King

I was given this book as a present from my dad with the warning that he had never heard of the author, or The Corpse-Rat King itself, but thought it might be an interesting read. As such, I approached this book with an open mind and no preconceptions about the quality of its content.

The Corpse-Rat King follows the exploits of Marius don Hellespont, who has spent most of his life as a thief, shyster and womaniser. While searching the corpses of soldiers after a particularly gruesome battle, he comes across the body of a recently slain king. Marius quickly pockets the king’s crown and other valuables. However, he is then drawn down into the world of the dead, who have mistaken him for the king he stole from. Upon realising that Marius is not the true king, the dead decide to entrust him with the task of returning to the land of the living and finding them a true king to serve the dead. When Marius is returned above ground, he tries to shirk this task, only to discover that the dead have literally turned him into a walking corpse. Marius then finds himself in numerous bizarre situations during the course of his refusal to accept the task, and eventual acceptance of his fate, including

The setting of The Corpse-Rat King provides endless opportunities for humour, adventure and even some philosophising over what constitutes “dead” and “alive”. However, despite these numerous possibilities, The Corpse-Rat King often fails to deliver. To begin with, it takes a good eighty pages or so before anything interesting happens and, after that, the story tends to meander from one set-piece to another without any obvious purpose. Marius is said to be running from his fate and trying to find an escape, but I think the same could be said of the author. He appears to abandon themes, concepts and settings quite quickly, resulting in quite a disjointed story that at times leaves the reader questioning whether they skipped a chapter by mistake.

At one stage, Marius encounters a village full of people horrified by his very appearance and determined to destroy what they can only view as a zombie. However, shortly after this, Marius is able to wander through a city easily, simply by donning some gloves and a hood. The varying reactions to his appearance later begin to play a role in the story, but this almost seems like an afterthought that the author came up with two-thirds of the way through writing the book.

That is not to say that The Corpse-Rat King is completely without merit or charm, as it does contain a host of curious characters. The development of Marius’ character is intriguing, if predictable, but it is the supporting cast that I found really piqued my interest. For example, the character of Keth, a barmaid who was working her way up in the world, seemed like a good contrast with the unethical Marius, especially when their romance was taken into account. However, just as quickly as Keth was brought into the story, she was then left behind as Marius moved on in his travels. She became a point of fixation for Marius; he often stated that he would change his ways, lead an honest life, retire and marry Keth. This never seemed to be consistent with his actions and it wasn’t clear whether Marius was supposed to periodically forget about this great love or if the author just wasn’t bothered to work it into the story at all times.

I have read worse books than The Corpse-Rat King over the years, but it has been quite a while since I’ve read as meandering and disjointed a book as this. I couldn’t honestly recommend this book to anyone, as I didn’t really enjoy it, nor was it so bad that it was good. Within the pages of The Corpse-Rat King resides the basis of a really great novel but, much like Marius, it spends too long trying not to be something that it loses sight of what it really wants to be.

I should state that the book doesn’t get unanimously poor reviews and there are those out there who state that they love it, but I am definitely not one of those. If you are, please drop me a comment and let me know what I didn’t pick up on.

Sinead

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