On the bloody battlefield littered with the dead and dying, two figures step cautiously through the viscera, the blood, guts and many feasting crows. These two appear ill-matched; one a slight and nimble figure, the other a hulking brute. You may be forgiven for thinking that perhaps they are there to aid those in need or maybe end the suffering of those who are beyond help; you would be mistaken, for this is Marius and Gerd, professional robber of the recently departed and protege.
When they stumble upon the body of the King of Scorby, Marius finds the plunder of a lifetime in the shape of the Kings golden crown. They end up with much more than they bargained for though when the dead come calling and Marius finds himself mistakenly named as the King of the Dead; after all he is the new owner of a kingly crown. The only thing that prevents these two from becoming a feast for the worms is the quick wit of Marius, who along with the lumbering corpse of Gerd is sent on a mission to find a real king of the dead or face an eternity as an un-dead monarch. What follows is a series of (mis)adventures that take these reluctant explorers to the farthest reaches of the empire and beyond.
The novel is coloured by a dark, sarcastic and dry humour, spoken with a clear voice and running with intelligent dialogue which creates a wonderfully rich tapestry to paint an unusual and meandering fantasy story; as compelling as it is rewarding. The plot has more twists than a screwfix catalogue and manages to keep the reader firmly on their toes, following characters who are both larger than life and about as far away from any definition of "hero" as George Michael is from the definition of "responsible adult".
Inventive doesn't do justice to the story, it's pretty unique, following an unusual structure and contains a great mix of humour and dark fantasy that really does set it apart from most novels within the genre. The star of the show though is the character of Marius himself, a rogue and a scoundrel who only looks out for himself and yet has perhaps a hidden spark buried deep under that fierce intelligence and unscrupulous charm (or perhaps not). Despite his lack of redeeming attributes (or perhaps because of them) he is someone who I really did engage with, the author does a brilliant job of breathing life into him and managing to create a dark, enigmatic profile that I would love to learn more about, dropping enough bits about his past to encourage the intrigue.
The Corpse-Rat King is different enough to appeal to most readers while the engaging, intelligent and wildly different narrative should keep any reader glued to the pages, a brilliant début from a promising talent.
Written on 31 August 2012 by Antony Jones.
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