King Rat was the China Mieville book I hadn’t read (apart from his thesis which is a Marxian analyis of some economics topic I can’t remember). It is unread no longer.
Basically the story is a Pied Piper retelling set in late-90s London in the Drum & Bass community. When Saul’s father dies he’s brought into the police for questioning, but then King Rat shows up, tells Saul he’s part rat and part human and he needs to escape right now. King Rat has plans for Saul in his age-old feud with The Piper, who is fucking terrfiying because he can make you do whatever he wants with his music.
While Saul is learning to move through the city like a rat, his friends are disappearing and being turned into pawns of the Piper. There’s also some cool stuff with the Loplop, the king of the birds and Anansi of the spider realm. These urban animals have all dealt with the Piper before and been defeated.
I loved the descriptions of how moving like a rat through the world worked for Saul. He’s a human and doesn’t simply shapeshift or anything. He just does impossible things. The book is set very specifically in London and it feels far from generically urban in its fantasy.
This is a much darker book than The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, another reimagining of the Pied Piper tale. People die horribly violently in this book. You can see a lot of themes Mieville came back to in his later novels, but this one doesn’t have any of the real mind-blowing craziness I love in his work.