Ah, China Mieville. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways!
After having read Mieville's collection of short stories my interest was sufficiently piqued to investigate his novels. Having read the synopses for all his books I decided this would be my best entry point for exploring China Mieville proper.
I was both right and wrong. This, the first of the Bas-Lag series is not an easy read, in the same way that Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy is not an easy read. However, like Peake's idiosyncratic trilogy, Perdido Street Station is an instant classic and I can see why it has earned Mieville so many admirers in the world of fantasy fandom.
Good fantasy writers are able to create a believable alternate world. Excellent fantasy writers are able to create a believable and engaging fantasy world alive with cultures and politics. Mieville's world is populated by so many fascinating, bizarre and endlessly endearing peoples that it would be impossible to keep track of them were they not so beautifully realised. As the novel progresses we are intoduced to the insectile / humanoid Khepri, the Cacatae (human cactuses, the amphibious Vodyanoi, the cybernetic Construct Council and the avian Garuda as well as their religions, hisories, cultures, subcultures, countercultures (and yes, even drug cultures) in a way that is never dry or dull but always a dynamic part of the narrative.
For those who demand more than a diverse racial cast of players from their fantasy Perdido street station doesn't disappoint in the plot department either. Told from the point of view of Isaac, a good hearted but rough around the edges academic the story follows Isaac on an epic adventure precipitated by an unexpected visit from a mysterious stranger. This stranger, Yahgarek, is a Garuda who comes to Isaac with a simple proposition, to enable him to fly even though his wings have been severed (the harshest punishment possible for a Garuda reserved only for the foulest crime). Elsewhere his secret lover, a prodigious Khepri artist named Lin is comissioned to create a sculpted dopelganger for a gangster whose appearance so horribly and intricately malformed his appearance can only be insinuated by the author.
There is so much depth, richness and complexity to this book it would be a long winded travesty to try and recap it here. Suffice to say if a world ruled by a totalitarian government with a direct line to Hell, where scientifically explainable magic can co exist with steam powered robots floats your boat then this is for you!