Rats and humans declare war on one another in this gory study in hidden fears and shifting loyalties.
Vaguely Victorian in setting, the narrative switches in short alternating chapters between human and rodent casts. Below ground, Blacker concocts an elaborately structured community of rats who somehow converse nonverbally by telepathic “revelation”; certain virginal bucks can even “hear” ambient information. Overhead, street child Dogboy gets by helping both a rat catcher who collects victims for slaughter in pit fights with dogs and also a crackpot scientist who, allied with an ambitious local politician, is engineering a campaign of fear to fuel large-scale massacres of the rat population. Along with adding a companion for Dogboy in Caz, a younger escapee from a “dance school” that trains girls as playthings for wealthy perverts, the author crafts ugly scenes of human brutality that give the rats—vicious or even cannibalistic as some may be—the moral high ground. Despite some humans whose sympathies lie with the rats, the sides are clearer than the plot, which climaxes in a muddled running battle that ends in a draw and is followed by a contrived happy ending. The fantasy elements do at least provide some distraction from the blunt lambasting of human savagery.
Thoroughly unpleasant and turgid to boot. (rat glossary) (Fantasy. 12-14)