Railsea Book Poster Image




Train captain pursues giant moles in clever pirate parody.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Although it succeeds as a self-contained adventure store, Railsea also contains elements of metafiction, commenting upon the storytelling process and referring to other famous novels, including Moby-Dick and Treasure Island.

Positive messages

Although they inhabit a rough-and-tumble world full of danger, Sham and his shipmates live by a code of honor that values bravery, persistence, and imagination. The moletrackers on the Medes work together to pursue their captain's obsession and to save Sham when he's in mortal danger.

Positive role models

Although Railsea's protagonist, Sham, isn't a very good medic's assistant, he possesses the imagination and bravery to pursue his own dreams. He learns to be kind to helpless animals, to keep his promises to those who have earned his trust, and to see a personal quest to its very end.


As a fast-paced adventure story, Railsea includes many instances of jeopardy for Sham, its protagonist, and for many of the supporting cast. There are train battles, muggings, and attacks by giant burrowing creatures. But bloodshed isn't dwelled upon, and the gore factor is probably no higher than in Moby-Dick or Treasure Island.

Not applicable

"Damn" and "hell" are used a couple of times.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

On one occasion, Sham goes pub-hopping with his shipmates and the next morning regrets having drunk alcohol.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Railsea is a fast-paced fantasy adventure that recasts Moby-Dick and Treasure Island into a world where locomotives pursue gigantic moles across a vast wasteland of dirt. There's plenty of suspense and many delicious in-jokes. Expect some violence involving train combat and gigantic burrowing animals, but the level of graphic bloodshed is low.

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What's the story?

In RAILSEA, Sham Yes ap Soorap is a young medic's assistant aboard the moletrain Medes, whose captain quests for the legendary Mocker-Jack across a wasteland of dirt. When Sham discovers a strange secret aboard a wrecked train, he's thrust into an adventure that will take him to the very end of the line, where he'll discover what lies beyond the rails. He'll be captured by pirates, chased by terrible burrowing creatures, and forced into confrontations with angels.

Is it any good?


Railsea is no run-of-the-mill adventure at sea; it's full of strange creatures, odd quests, treacherous pirates, and weird settings. Author China Mieville's world-building is both surreal and oddly plausible, and his prose is charmingly off-kilter. The novel won't be for every taste, but readers who can catch the humor in the narrative will be rewarded with a one-of-a-kind literary adventure.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about Railsea's method of upending literary conventions from books like Moby-Dick and Treasure Island. Why do readers enjoy tales of nautical (or locomotive) adventure?

  • Much is made in Railsea of the Captain's "philosophy." How do people develop a philosophy that guides their behavior in strange circumstances?

  • Why do you think the author directly comments on how stories are told? What you do think those seeming asides add to the novel's narrative?

Book details

Author:China Mieville
Topics:Magic and fantasy, Adventures, Pirates, Trains
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Del Rey
Publication date:June 15, 2012
Number of pages:448
Publisher's recommended age(s):12 - 17

This review of Railsea was written by

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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