I received a free copy of this ebook to review from NetGalley, on behalf of the publisher.
When things go wrong for Marius Helles, they go very, very wrong. The man has tried every dishonest way of making a living, settling on corpse robbing as the best reward for the least risk. He even has an apprentice. But one day, after a huge battle in which the king dies, Marius is forced to carry out the most impossible of tasks.
Lee Battersby’s The Corpse Rat King opens as Marius and his apprentice, Gerd, are searching for coin and small valuables on the bodies of the dead. Gerd’s eyes are larger than his stomach, so to speak, when he tries to steal a crown off of one of the bodies. They’re caught by the surviving members of the king’s entourage, but fall into worse trouble when the dead pull them into the underworld. Because Marius is holding a crown (which he tried to dump and run back on the battlefield), the dead believe he’s their long awaited king. When Marius points out that he still has a heartbeat, even though he has a heartbeat, the dead offer him a deal. Marius has to bring them a king or they kill him. What’s a dishonest man to do?
In Marius’ case, he scarpers. He catches a ship in his hometown, the port city of Borgho, on a vessel that’s going the furthest away. Marius spends nearly half the book running and having misadventure after misadventure. He does try to nab a king or two, but his heart (‘scuz the pun) isn’t in it. Something always goes wrong. The island king is cannibalized after he’s dead to pass on his virtues to the next king. The second king, Nandus, who went down with his ship, is still mad as pants and is exploded by a shark. Marius eventually realizes that the only way he can get his (after)life back on track is to actually carry out the dead’s orders.
The Corpse Rat King has a terrific ending as Marius and his now dead apprentice finally find a king willing and sane enough to take the job. They just have to get him out of his tomb first.
This book has some problems with pacing. Sometimes it seemed like there wasn’t quite enough plot to sustain the length of the book. And Marius is far from admirable for most of the book. But Battersby has a knack for turning a phrase and his characters, thankfully, don’t speak stereotypical medieval fantasy talk. They’re snarky and realistic. But I did enjoy this trip on the lighter side of the genre.