The Corpse-Rat King
by Lee Battersby
Review by Steve Sawicki
Angry Robot Digital ISBN/ITEM#: 9780857662880
Date: 25 September 2012 / Show Official Info /
Marius dos Hellespont is a professional battlefield looter. When he and his apprentice, Gerd, are looting the latest field of corpses, they come across the body of the King of Scorby, at which point Gerd is killed. Marius, however, is mistaken for the dead king and transported down to the Kingdom of the Dead. It is unclear exactly how this happens or whether Markius is still alive or now dead. Regardless, the dead want a king and Marius seems to be it. At least until he manages to convince the dead that he is not really dead, in which case they give him an ultimatum; find them a king or become one of them for real.
Marius, as usual, takes the cowards way out and decides to agree and then run away. Unfortunately, while he may or may not actually be dead, he actually looks dead. This creates any number of issues for him as he tries to get as far away from the scene of the battle and, indeed, the continent, as possible. Pursued by Gerd, who has been tasked with making sure that he remains single-mindedly on task. Marius flees on foot, by cart, and by boat.
This is an interesting premise and the main character is a rogue, written in the new style of cynical commentator. But the novel takes too much of a travelogue route about halfway through. It's too much of a one trick pony. We know Marius wants to get away and we know that, in the end he will have to make good, the proof will lie in what intervenes. But it needs to be more than just traveling from (what the writer thinks is) one interesting place after the other.
I liked the book, right up to around page 225 and then I realized I was just being recycled and that at the last recycling the circuit would be complete and it would all come to an end. For me, the story needed to be more about how Marius comes to understand the error of his ways, and more about the relationship, as well, between the dead and the living. I think all the pieces were here, it's just that Battersby either decided they weren't needed or didn't have the skill to include them.
The writing is well done and this would have made a fantastic short story, or even a 200 page novel, but it continues on for 350 pages in total. Way too long for the way the plot was managed.