After some delays, No Going Back, the 5th Jon/Lobo novel by Mark Van Name has been finished a few days ago and Baen had an earc for sale HERE - reasonably proofed though with more typos than usual, but acceptable considering the circumstances - within 10 hours and of course I bought it and read it asap. I could have stayed and finished it two nights ago but as it was 2 am and my eyes were closing, I did not want to rush it so I finished it last night at 2. I put a raw mini-review on Goodreads of which I quote the first paragraph, but I plan to have a full review here in May around the time the fully copy-edited book will be officially out.
"The 5th Jon and Lobo adventure came two years after the previous installment rather than the one year schedule of the first 4. It returned to the more classic adventure feel of the first 3 books and while the darker and weightier Children No More was very good, I think the original tone works better especially now that the author has it down pitch perfect."
You can read the first 15 chapters for free on the Baen site HERE - note that as of now they are still "earc" chapters, but will get updated as the book is proofed more carefully - and you can find my reviews of the 3rd installment, Overthrowing Heaven (with a quick overview of the series to that point), HERE and of the 4th installment, Children No More, HERE. I also want to note that the Amazon blurb is not really correct as it gets quite a few details wrong, though it does get across the main thrust of the novel.
One more point I would like to emphasize is that No Going Back functions well as a standalone (all earlier books storylines are recounted briefly here and there, while the salient facts about Jon and Lobo are also gone through) so you can start delving in the series here, though from the way things end, I suspect the next volumes will become much more tightly connected in plot and secondary characters too.
Any new China Mieville is an event of course and last year's Embassytown - my review HERE - found its well deserved spot on various best-of lists, award short and longlists etc. However when Railsea was announced, I was not sure how it will work out for me as the author's previous foray in YA/MG literature Un Lun Dun, delightful at the right age as my (almost) 10 year old son reported when he read and loved it a few weeks ago, was like most YA/MG books not really for me today as sadly I find it hard to suspend disbelief when reading children and YA books I have not read at the appropriate age and for which I do not have the memories to relate to.
However when I opened the review copy I recently got, Railsea read like a trademark adult China Mieville at least to start with. Noting that anything specific below refers to the advanced review copy, so it is subject to change for the final fully proofed book, here are a few more details.
Starting with an illustration of the "Great Southern Moldywarpe" and having a hero named Shamus Yes ap Soorap, Railsea features some nine illustrations, while its style attracts attention from the opening paragraph in the first (text) page Prologue that seems to be situated some time after the main action (see caveat above about actual quotes):
"This is the story of a bloodstained boy.
There he stands, swaying as utterly as any windblown sapling. He is quite, quite red. If only that were paint! Around each of his feet the red puddles; his clothes, whatever colour they were once, are now a thickening scarlet; his hair is stiff & drenched."
Later in the prologue (one page but reads quite longer), even more interest is aroused by:
"We’re here too soon. Of course we can start anywhere: that’s the beauty of the tangle, that’s its very point. But where we do & don’t begin has its ramifications, & this right now is not best chosen. Into reverse: let this engine go back. Just to before the boy was bloodied, there to pause & go forward again to see how we got here, to red, to music, to chaos, to a big question mark in a young man’s head."
Here is the Amazon blurb which seems to be consistent with the above:
"On board the moletrain Medes, Sham Yes ap Soorap watches in awe as he witnesses his first moldywarpe hunt: the giant mole bursting from the earth, the harpoonists targeting their prey, the battle resulting in one’s death and the other’s glory. But no matter how spectacular it is, Sham can't shake the sense that there is more to life than traveling the endless rails of the railsea–even if his captain can think only of the hunt for the ivory-coloured mole she’s been chasing since it took her arm all those years ago. When they come across a wrecked train, at first it's a welcome distraction. But what Sham finds in the derelict—a series of pictures hinting at something, somewhere, that should be impossible—leads to considerably more than he'd bargained for. Soon he's hunted on all sides, by pirates, trainsfolk, monsters and salvage-scrabblers. And it might not be just Sham's life that's about to change. It could be the whole of the railsea."