King Rat - China Miéville
This, Miéville's début novel, is an entertaining though not very substantial fantasy tale that brings the tale of the Pied Piper to modern London, where he's still battling the king of the rats. As in his later works, Miéville writes with real though ambivalent affection of grimy London, which he presents as a character in its own right, both a cold hostile "idea sprung from its own mind" and pulsing with the life of its inhabitants, human and animal. And he gets in a plug for socialist revolution but in a pretty ironic backhanded way. The author might be accused of nostalgie de la boue, but this view of the seamy side as seen through a rat's eyes definitely is worth seeing. A constant theme running through this book is the difference between how humans and other species think (especially about altruism); it's only partly successful, it seems to me. For one thing, trying to make your anthropomorphic animals a bit more realistic only makes the whole concept of a "king of spiders" etc. etc. more obviously ridiculous -- such concepts and "realism" don't go together.