Title: The Corpse-Rat King
Author: Lee Battersby
Pub. Date: August, 2012
Summary: Marius don Hellespont and his apprentice, Gerd, are professional looters of battlefields. When they stumble upon the corpse of the King of Scorby and Gerd is killed, Marius is mistaken for the monarch by one of the dead soldiers and is transported down to the Kingdom of the Dead.
Just like the living citizens, the dead need a King — after all, the King is God’s representative, and someone needs to remind God where they are.
And so it comes to pass that Marius is banished to the surface with one message: if he wants to recover his life he must find the dead a King. Which he fully intends to do.
Just as soon as he stops running away.
Genre: Sci-Fi, Fantasy
“Find us a king,” the corpse called out.
“You stole his place. You are in our debt.”
The Corpse-Rat King opens with a bang: Marius, a professional thief, and his assistant Gerd, are combing through a battlefield, looting whatever valuables they could find. Unfortunately, Marius comes upon the corpse of the King and quickly finds his life changed forever. Within minutes Gerd is brutally slain and Marius finds himself in the Kingdom of the Dead – mistaken for the dead king.
Needless to say, the dead are not pleased to discover Marius is, in fact, not their king. Also, he’s not exactly as dead as they originally thought. They send him back to the surface with a task: find a new ruler.
Marius was not a fighting man. A thief does not enter the profession because he wants to fight. He was a slinker, a tip-toer. He lived for the time after the fight, when the victor had departed and all that remained were the easy rewards and sightless eyes.
With a fascinating plot, The Corpse-Rat King is unlike any story I’ve read. The lines between the living and the dead are blurred in Marius’s world and I loved that. Once he returns to the surface he notices changes to his body. For starters, he doesn’t have a heartbeat. His vision in the dark has also changed – for the better. At times his skin will be grey and withered, yet other times his flesh will be rosy and pink. This aspect was really neat and I enjoyed all the possibilities.
Also, the author has a way with words. The writing was absolutely beautiful. Sadly, this also led to me skimming page-length paragraphs of descriptions. Vivid, lovely descriptions, but descriptions nonetheless.
Early explorers found nothing there to recommend the place to anybody, and indeed, early maps show a simple ovoid outline with the words “Don’t Bother” written inside.
Marius meets an entire cast of characters throughout his journey: dead kings, an untrustworthy captain, an island of natives. Each one was wonderfully fleshed out and their own person. Again, I cannot say enough about Battersby’s penchant for writing: he is a magnificent writer (with over 70 stories to his name!).
However – and I wish there wasn’t a however – once the book hit the halfway mark it felt like the story came grinding to a halt. It felt like I was reading the camping part of Deathly Hallows all over again! Marius is on this exciting, event-riddled journey. I shouldn’t be skimming entire pages!
Then he remembered the autumn of his tenth year, when Nandus had ordered that the forests along the Borghan peninsula be set on fire so the squirrels wouldn’t get cold, and seven thousands peasants had died in the winter snows.
Some of my favorite characters showed up only to never be heard from or thought about again. The dead King Nandus was fantastic and I could easily have read an entire book solely featuring him.
Keth, the love-interest-that-wasn’t is another example of a character that seemed to play a huge role, but then simply vanished. At one point Marius has a Big Revelation and realizes that she’s loved him this entire time. He turns her into a mission (find the dead a king, then get back to his home, profess his love, buy Keth a house, have a bunch of kids, and live Happily Ever After), yet not long after that moment, Keth is never thought of again. She doesn’t appear again – either in person or in conversation – for the duration of the book.
Gerd, the bumbling sidekick, had the personality of the real hero while Marius could have easily been the sidekick instead. Marius put Gerd through so much – and told so many lies – that it was hard NOT to feel for Gerd.
With no external stimulation, he turned inwards. He tried singing, but there are only so many bottles of beer that can fall before the entire liquor industry goes on strike…
There were multiple lines that made me giggle, but even the humor doesn’t hide the fact that there are many things missing from this book. Gaping plot holes, unsympathetic characters with no redeeming qualities, and too-long paragraphs combined to make what initially started out as a fantastic book, an ultimately disappointing and lackluster one. I finished The Corpse-Rat King with a resounding meh.
From the author notes it seems a sequel is in the works. Hopefully the issues I had will be addressed and corrected.