It’s been way, way too long since the last China Miéville novel, 2012’s Railsea. Now at last, the master of strange, thought-provoking worlds has a book coming out early next year, This Census-Taker. And we’ve got an exclusive first look at the cover as well as an excerpt!

What is This Census-Taker about? The official synopsis gives only a slight clue:

In a remote house on a hilltop, a lonely boy witnesses a profoundly traumatic event. He tries - and fails - to flee. Left alone with his increasingly deranged parent, he dreams of safety, of joining the other children in the town below, of escape.

When at last a stranger knocks at his door, the boy senses that his days of isolation might be over.

But by what authority does this man keep the meticulous records he carries? What is the purpose behind his questions? Is he friend? Enemy? Or something else altogether?

Filled with beauty, terror, and strangeness, This Census-Taker is a poignant and riveting exploration of memory and identity.

Here’s the full cover of This Census-Taker, which comes out in January in the U.S. and Canada, and in February in the U.K.:

And here is an exclusive excerpt from the novel, that gives a sense of just how unnerving it’ll be:

Excerpted from This Census-Taker by China Miéville (On Sale January 5, 2016)

A boy ran down a hill path screaming. The boy was I. He held his hands up and out in front of him as if he’d dipped them in paint and was coming to make a picture, to press them down to paper, but all there was on him was dirt. There was no blood on his palms.

He was nine years old, I think, and this was the fastest he’d ever run, and he stumbled and careered and it seemed many times as if he would fall into the rocks and gorse that surrounded the footpath, but I kept my feet and descended into the shadow of my hill. The air felt wet but no rain had fallen. I sent up cold dust behind me and little animals scuttling ahead.

People in the town saw that cloud long before I arrived, Samma would later tell me. When she could tell that it wasn’t just weather, she was one of those who came to wait by the pump beyond the bridge to the west, where there were the last buildings, to watch whatever was coming. After that day, when I saw her, when she could, Samma would tell me stories, including the story of when I came down the hill.

‘I knew it was you,’ she’d say. ‘That dirt devil on its way down. “It’s the boy,” I said. A lot of us did. You must’ve run a mile while I watched you, you ran and ran and you didn’t slow once. You came right past the nails.’ The nails: my name that she had adopted for a copse of dead white bushes. ‘Right by every split in the hill and you must have heard all the devils down there howling at you.’ When she talked like this I’d stare at her urgently, without speaking. ‘We heard you coming, making noises like a hurt gull or something, and I said: “It is, it’s the boy!”‘

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In I’d come. I turned with the path, away from where the slope grew drier and stonier and inclined precipitously, and I ran for where the crowd was waiting. I could see down spaces between those outmost walls to the town’s built-up bridge. I was weeping so hard I retched, came loud and filthy past the wire-spinning mill and the glassworks, past barns and stores and the ground before them strewn with old straw and the shards of things that had been broken within, toward the cobbles and concrete in view of that bridge itself, where the townspeople waited.

There were children among them: those with adults were held back by them. I made noises as if I were a whooping baby. I struggled for air.

I was the only one moving while all there stared at my little figure raising dirt, until someone, I don’t know who, started forward to meet me, and they brought others after them in shame, Samma among them.

They ran to me with their own arms out like mine, to take me.

‘Look!’ I heard a man say. ‘God, look at him!’

I kept up the hands I thought were bloody for them to see.

I shouted, ‘My mother killed my father!’


From the forthcoming book THIS CENSUS-TAKER by China Miéville. Copyright © 2015 by China Miéville. Reprinted by arrangement with Del Rey, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.