Book review by
Michael Berry, Common Sense Media
Railsea Book Poster Image
Train captain pursues giant moles in clever pirate parody.

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Kids say

age 12+
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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

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 & Representations

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.


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

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

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

What 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.

User Reviews

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Kid, 10 years old June 8, 2020

One of my personal favorites

I so loved this book! It is about a future world where instead of oceans and boats, there is the "railsea" and trains. It is very interesting. There a... Continue reading

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.

Talk to your kids 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

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasies and pirates

Themes & Topics

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