The Corpse-Rat King. So much love I almost gave it five stars. Really, the only reason I didn't was because I was pretty sure the best was yet to come.
And I was right. With this sequel, The Marching Dead, Battersby kicked up everything I loved about the first novel by a notch or two -- world-building, storytelling, hilarity, and most of all, characters who just made me punch the air over and over again, usually while laughing. Gerd, the trusty dead bumpkin sidekick on whom our hero Marius relied on last novel, comes into his own as a bona fide second hero, for one... but there's more. For instance, Gerd's newly dead Granny, who could go toe to toe with Lady Sybella and the awesome cranky biddy gang of the Lymond Chronicles, but who, ultimately, would shock them speechless with her command of bawdy songs. And Alno the dead bastard cat. And Arnobew, aka Warbone, the crazy cardboard warrior. And Marius' parents, who are both real pieces of work. And...
See what I mean, here? Generally, any book that finds me giving lists of characters in the first paragraph or two of my blog is one that has made me very, very happy.
But wait, there's more. Like plot twists that actually surprised me. Like genuinely grounding the bizarre, over-the-top story in the hero's character, past and present and making it work. Like featuring lines of dialogue like "It's not necrophilia if we're both dead" and having it feel completely natural, tasteless absurdity and all. Like a stupendously badass order of nuns with whom no sane would ever want to tangle. Really, the only way I could have been happier would have been if Battersby had managed to throw in some kind of awesome Busby Berkley cockroach scene or something. My only complaint is that, well, this seems like an awfully small world; Marius do keep running into every (impressively bosomed) woman he's ever slept with and winding up needing something from her years after leaving on messy terms.
Which is to say that, yes, I could have done without the love rhombus.
But that's a small matter, really. And it's the big matters that, well, matter. Because amid the violence and the guffaws, The Marching Dead has a thing or two to say about belief and religion, about life after death (obviously) and about responsibility, which not even Marius can run away from. There are some poignant moments between the scenes of slapstick carnage and smartassery. As there should be when the subject is death.
As soon as things look to be getting too serious, though, Battersby always comes out with a send up. Because ultimately, he seems to want to tell us, death and fear of death are laughing matters, if anything is. It's just that the joke is on us. As is the vomit, blood, other body fluids....
Battersby is one messed up dude. Delightfully so. We should all be so lucky. All the stars.