Monday, 21 September 2015

The Scar by China Mieville

I really wish I'd been in a place to sit down and gulp this book over a couple of days. It feels like it would have benefited from having all my attention as opposed to the scattershot consideration it got. I still enjoyed it a lot, but it meant that I couldn't get swept away by the richness of Mieville's prose as I usually do. But there was too much stress and a book club coming up, and that means The Scar got bounced around for a couple of weeks, instead of being my laser-like focus for four or five days.

Oh well. That's life. If I wasn't engrossed in this entry into Mieville's oeuvre, I still enjoyed it very much. The world he's created and is further exploring, extends far outside New Crobuzon this time, and it's mind-boggling. It says something about Mieville that I want to write "mind-boggling as usual."

Bellis Coldwine is fleeing New Crobuzon as the inquiry into the events of Perdido Street Station by the authorities continue, and she thinks she will be next to be pulled in for "questioning." She signs up to go to a far colony as a translator, but before she can get there, is on a ship that is taken by pirates. And not just any pirates. Pirates who belong to a floating pirate city, Armada, which press-gangs all those taken from the ships into citizenship.

Armada is rich and dirty and different from New Crobuzon, but interesting in the same ways New Crobuzon is interesting - due to the richness of his descriptions. Bellis hates it there, and wants to return to Armada, while also knowing that for many who were taken off the ship, particularly the Remade prisoners (people convicted for crime for whom the sentence was not only imprisonment but grotesque physical alterations), life is much better.

Two men she knew on her first voyage remain important - a scientist who has been brought into a top secret project of two of the leaders of Armada, known only as The Lovers, and a secret New Crobuzon agent who enlists her help in sending a message to New Crobuzon.

Along the way, they visit the island of mosquito people, which is horrifying, try to raise a monstrosity from the sea, and then, set sail for the unlikeliest place in the world. Quite literally. The Scar, the spot where reality starts to crumble and possibilities multiply. And when I say visit, I mean the entire floating city, towed slowly by hundreds of smaller boats.

Beyond the amazing description and inventive details, this is a book of plotting and loyalty and betrayal. Who are you loyal to? Why? What could break that loyalty? How could that loyalty be turned against you? What do you do when the people you owe allegiance to start doing things that are actively dangerous to everyone, in the name of their own megalomania?

It's about working behind the scenes, in front of the scenes, and at a 90 degree angle to the scenes. Bellis finds herself having to decide, not whether or not to be used, but who to be used by.

It's another dense, fascinating book, and very, very enjoyable if you like Mieville's writing. I just wish I'd had the time to sink down under the waters of this book and explore the depths in larger chunks of time.


I read this book as part of an attempt to read all the Hugo Nominees

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