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3.9 out of 5 stars9
3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 10 July 2004
I think it's fair to say all Mary Gentle's books are extraordinary but this is the one I return to again and again. Richly colourful and written with her most lyrical prose, it glows with the sensuality of a Rennaissance painting and the mocking detail of a medieval woodcut. It's stuffed with marvellously quirky characters like Valentine, the White Crow, The Rat King(s) knotted together by their tails, Gods from some arcane alchemical calendar, the delightfully oversized Balthasar, Kat, a wickedly innocent lesbian rat and Messire Plessy, an elegant rat cleric. The book seethes with ideas and surprises and skims bewilderingly past multiple themes of politics, magic, sexuality, desire, youth, age, religeon. Everything really. There are many layered and interwoven plots and after several readings I still find new things to enjoy. Also still things I don't think I quite understand. I find myself reading mouthwatering descriptions and suddenly wondering,Hey, what happened there? You never know what's going to be round the corner of the next page! I love this book and recommend it unreservedly to anyone who loves word and stories and doesn't want everything handed to them on a plate.
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on 1 May 2002
Rats and Gargoyles is set in a world extrapolated from the middle ages, with some modern and invented ideas thrown in. In an immense city at the centre of the world, an aristocracy of man-sized rats govern a diverse mix of more human people, and all are under the incarnate eyes of a group of Gods living in a huge temple within the city. The storyline has several strands, involving a number of plots to overthrow the established order, and attempts by a sort of secret society to stop these activities from causing apocalypse. I first read this book years ago, when it was first published, then again a year or two ago. Both times I eagerly soaked up the ideas in the book - they were, and still are, unlike those in any other sci-fi story I've read; inventive, absorbing, and introduced gradually thoughout the book, keeping the story fresh right to the end. I found the storyline itself interesting, and the descriptive writing was also good (evoked plenty of images). One criticism, in parts the pacing was rather slow, I think this book could have been significantly better if it moved faster. But overall, a good read, and something you don't find every day.
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on 22 March 2007
Somewhere in a Baroque time of the heart, in a past and future Renaissance, there is a city too immense for the mind to easily comprehend. It is a city where Rats -- aristocratic Rats, much given to wit and swordplay, fine clothes and church ceremony -- rule the human servant class. A city where miracles have been everyday wear, and God only a step away down any street. But now there is silence from the Divine.

All across the city, people are coming together-- Lucas, Prince of Candover, student at the University of Crime, Zar-bettu-zekigal, who follows the profession of Kings Memory and possesses a tail, and is currently in love with her landlady. A woman calling herself the White Crow, a practitioner of Hermetic science and magia. Baltazar Casaubon, architect and lover, a man of indescribable personal habits. And many more.

In the city, tensions are strained to breaking point. Under the streets, in metaphysically haunted sewers, the last remnants of the Imperial human dynasty plot a rising against the Rat-Lords' oligarchic rule. On the great architectural monuments being built by human slaves for God, and on the factory production lines, there is talk of a wildcat strike. And Theodoret, Bishop of the banned Church of the Trees, talks with Candia, a Reverend tutor at the University; their problem one of impossible dimensions -- to cross examine the Divine, whimsical, miracle-working, capricious and perhaps the custodians of the deep structures of the universe.

There is a city too labyrinthine and unfathomable for the mind to easily comprehend but it must be comprehended. And the time in which to do this is running out.


Rats and Gargoyles is a work breathtakingly imaginative in its scope, in which the author converts a field of scholarly research into an adventure playground. It conjures up an exotic, savage world of humans and fabulous creatures; a world of anarchy and tyranny, of magic and forbidding religion. This novel is a stunning achievement and a new departure for Mary Gentle -- one of the foremost writers of the dark and the visionary.
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on 22 October 1998
I fell deeply in love with this book early in 1992. Tragically I lost my treasured hardback copy a short time later. This year I found a replacement and nearly cried! It is quite simply one of the most astonishingly well crafted novels of this or any other genre.
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on 3 March 2016
Starts well with a dramatic, atmospheric and very visual opening scene. And kind of goes downhill from there.
Gentle is great at descriptions, although this can also get very repetitive and distracting. I lost count of the number of times characters' hair and clothing was described, for no real reason, and always using the same words (copper or cinnamon, depending on the character), and when the world is collapsing I don't really need to read the details of the colour and texture of the crumbling masonry in every scene.
But the main problem is clarity: I didn't have a clue what was going on half the time. There's some vague, hand-wavy nonsense about gods and necromancy and alchemy and architecture but I couldn't make head or tail of it, and gave up trying after a while. All that left me was the occasional startling image or beautiful turn of phrase. To use an architectural analogy as Gentle would herself, it's all gothic stylings and embellishment without a solid structure or foundation to hold it up.
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on 24 March 2016
After my third attempt, I've officially given up trying to read this. I don't get what the positive reviewers are finding in this book, as every paragraph makes me want to get my red pen out and make amendments.

I'm sure Mary Gentle is a good writer, but this book is badly in need of some severe editing. Great ideas ruined by a virtually unreadable narrative, sadly.
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on 22 July 2015
to many archaic words created a lot of unnecessary re-reading to work out the meaning, this drew out the story to the extent that I am still battling through it and it seams to be getting easier. it is possible that Mary got board with the dictionary, I sorely did. Grunts was fantastic.
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on 27 October 2014
30 something years old and still on point. Suitably adult in a show-don't-tell kind of way. Warning: requires thinking... but not too much: 5 points on a compass rose will break you if you try to draw it.
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on 21 January 2000
Highly recommended -- I loved the White Crow and Causubon -- a great introduction to a highly unusual heroine and her falstaffian husband, both of whom are featured in several other of Gentle's books and stories. A unique fantasy world.
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