Thursday, 23 June 2011
When I reviewed Perdido Street Station at the beginning of the year I was keen to get my hands on the sequels. It doesn't feel six months since I said it. It certainly didn't feel like I'd been out of Bas-Lag six months when I started reading The Scar.
It's a slow starter. China Miéville builds his world up again with great care and attention to detail. The journey away from New Crobuzon by one of the renegades connected with events in Perdido Street Station is initially to reintroduce the world and get a feel before the real action gets started. And that takes 200 pages. Not that it's a bad read at this stage. The conflicts Bellis Coldwine, the protagonist, feels draw you in to the character and introduce the mysteries of characters who will play a prominent part in future events.
And then we reach Armada.
Armada is a remarkable creation. I don't normally comment, simply because many steampunk locales have a vaguely similar feel even if they're portrayed differently. New Crobuzon itself is a remarkable achievement, being possessed of its own intrigues and a unique feel, but the floating city of Armada surpasses even that.
Armada is a city comprised of hundreds of vessels lashed together and built upon, turned into a floating city moving gradually around the open seas. Its people are pirates and pressganged, arranged into their districts. No one leaves; should you be unfortunate enough to find yourself kidnapped by the pirates who range on missions for Armada, then that's it. Your life will be spent in the city. Your loyalties will be dictated by your district. It's a city portrayed visually as something out of the ordinary, which Miéville's writing makes it easy to see in your mind's eye.
Then there's the people. There's a vast range of races, mostly humanoid, but some vastly different from the norm. Miéville makes up races for fun: there's the Cactacae, the Vodyanoi, the Khepri, Scabmettlers, Remade, Vampir... Each brings something new to the eclectic mix. And then there's the characters themselves. Mysterious, with hidden agendas aplenty. We only find out the truth of them late in proceedings.
Armada seems to lurch from place to place, guided by the schemes of its leaders. One thing leads seamlessly to the next. On the way through the 800-page novel there are dramatic uses of the sciento-magic thaumaturgy, quests, subterfuges, battles a plenty (both with and without hardy pirate cutlasses being involved). It's a book of great range, epic in its scope. At once it can be intensely personal and grandly epic in the same way as significant historical events. It has a life of its own.
So would I recommend The Scar? Heartily. It's something remarkable. It's not a book to read so much as you experience it. Miéville's writing means you can smell each and every moment as well as visualise it. It is immersive and once it's over you'll feel like you've lost a part of you. It's something to cherish.