on 24 July 2013
"Scars are not injuries, Tanner Sack. A scar is a healing. After injury, a scar is what makes you whole."
The Scar lives up to its title. Everything and everyone at the core of this story is at a different stage of healing. Whether they have physical wounds, broken emotional bonds or tears in the world itself, everything will eventually leave a scar. Mieville has managed to craft a follow-up to Perdido Street Station which touches on deeper themes of loneliness and belonging. And pirates. Where Perdido Street Station was an introduction to the city of New Crobuzon, The Scar is far more wide-ranging; leaving New Crobuzon for climates new, and to places altogether much stranger than the city it leaves behind.
Bellis Coldwine is the central protagonist of The Scar. Continuing the theme of unorthodox central protagonists from Perdido Street Station, Bellis is a linguist. She's named aptly; cold, mostly humourless and consistently conflicted by her own decisions. The novel begins in New Crobuzon, but Bellis quickly leaves, believing herself to be in danger from the militia. (In a nice nod to the events of Perdido Street Station) She finds herself a job onboard a naval ship as a translator; a ship which has a cargo of more than just trade goods. But this is all just set-up for the real storyline. When Bellis' ship is taken by pirates and press-ganged into the floating city of ships known as Armada, she finds herself much further from home than she ever wished to be. And the rulers of Armada have bigger plans than anyone could possibly imagine - leading them to the greatest beast in the seas and the source of unimaginable power.
The Scar is a little shorter than Perdido Street Station, but still comes in at a hefty length. However, Mieville has managed to hone his talents between the two novels to create a book which moves along at a near perfect pace, from set-piece to set-piece. Where Perdido Street Station was a little flabby in its first quarter and to some extent in its last quarter, The Scar always moves briskly, and yet always allows the characters and setting room to breathe. On top of that, the plot is an absolute stunner - each individual part building to a huge climax and then starting all over again, but building on what's come before.
In terms of imagination, Mieville is completely unleashed here. Perdido Street Station was layered with atmosphere and some very original ideas, but The Scar just goes one step further. New Crobuzon was a living city - you could feel every layer of grime seep into you as you read it. But Armada, the main setting for The Scar, could not be more different. I've never seen anything like it before. A floating city, made up of press-ganged ships from centuries of pillage, it is an incredible idea and expertly described by Mieville - and yet never to the point of overdoing it. The setting is there to tell part of the story - it's just an incredible thing to behold on top of that.
Another area where Mieville improves on from Perdido Street Station is his cast of characters. As entertaining as they were in Perdido, only two or three had any real level of depth. The others felt like side-characters. Here, though, even the minor characters feel well-realised and important to the progression of the story. Whether it's the reMade marine engineer, Tanner Sack, the effective rulers of Armada, The Lovers or the particularly awe-inspiring Uther Doul and his possibility sword, they all feel like they could live beyond the pages.
With The Scar, China Mieville has managed to build on the success of Perdido Street Station to create a novel which expands the world of Bas-Lag and tells a much more thematically cohesive story. You could read it with no prior knowledge of Perdido Street Station quite easily - some may even recommend you do so. But I think you'd miss out on the joy of having read that foundation which Mieville built in the last book. Where Perdido Street Station was essentially a very clever monster hunt, The Scar is a tale of just that: scars. The scars of relationships old and new. The scars of flesh, memory and emotion. The scars from political, personal and social wounds created in the previous Bas-Lag novel. And the scars of the very earth itself. It's a seriously accomplished novel, and the best I've read from Mieville yet.
on 24 April 2002
From the author who gave us the brilliant and phantasmagoric 'Perdido Street Station' comes a new work similarly brimming with wit, inventiveness and interest.
The author's use of language to paint vivid and engaging pictures is just as evident as in 'Perdido Street Station'. Sights which could be comic if handled only slightly differently hold chilling and at times repellent fascination. Mieville's ability to capture the essence of s scene, person or thing within the space of a few words is one of the things which makes 'The Scar' a truly enjoyable read.
However, it's not one for the faint hearted. The author is certainly emergining as one of the finest current exponents of weird fiction. His books blur the boundary between fantasy, SF, horror and all manner of traditional genres, giving a sense of the truly new and innovative. Like any author, there's a certain amount of hat-tipping to favourite and inspirational writers, yet the book has a freshness of idea and place which marks it out from others. The story starts off simply, with the escape of one character from the sprawl of New Crobuzon, the transporting of prisoners across the sea, acts of piracy and the amazing appearance of familiar objects (you'll know what I mean when you come to them).
All in all, if you enjoyed 'King Rat' or 'Perdido Street Station', then you'll most certainly enjoy 'The Scar'. If you've not read the authors work before, then I'd heartily recommend this and all of his novels.
on 28 July 2006
The second book after the innocuously titled "Perdido Street Station" builds upon the wonderfully leftfield creation from Britain best fantasy writer China Mielville. Insanely descriptive and awash with strange creatures fathomed from a otherworldly conscience this book is brimming full of ideas. Mielville tells the story of a pirate nation searching for a well of power found within a fabled scar, a rent in the bottom of the ocean. This is a backdrop for a myriad of subplots and twists involving politics, war and people. Motivations are mapped out and charted in rich detail that bring you into the tale and help expand the world of Bas-Lag. There are wider horizons than New Crobuzon but the echoing desire to explore that city from the first book is felt by the central character well carved out but never overshadowing the numerous other players in the tale.
Miellville never disappoints in this weighty tome and leaves one wanting to find out more about what makes this world tick and what indeed fuels his mind.
My relationship with China Mieville's work is somewhat complicated. I detested Kraken with every fibre of my being, because it was an excellent idea poorly executed. Despite that, I still read the first of his Bas-Lag novels, Perdido Street Station, which I enjoyed much more, even though I still believed it had many of the same infuriating faults of Kraken and Mieville still rather struck me as someone I might want to punch. One of the things I did like about Perdido Street Station, however, was New Crobuzon, the huge, corrupt city state in which the station lies, and I wanted to explore it further. So I bought The Scar.
Which turned out not to be set in New Crobuzon at all.
Fortunately, it doesn't matter. I thoroughly enjoyed The Scar anyway.
The only real link to Perdido Street Station in The Scar is Bellis Coldwine, the lead character. A gifted linguist who works as a translator, she is apparently suspected of being somehow guilty by association in connection with some of the events of Perdido Street Station, and has been forced to flee New Crobuzon as a result on a ship that carries voluntary passengers hoping to make a new life for themselves, as well as convicts to be used as slave labour. Midway through the journey, the ship is attacked by pirates, and the surviving passengers, crew and slaves are taken to live in Armada, a floating city of countless plundered ships. Reluctantly trapped in a city she will never call home, Bellis becomes embroiled in a complex plan by the mysterious, disfigured Lovers, who largely rule Armada, to tap into the potential of 'The Scar', a fragile flaw in reality which could provide them with limitless power.
Armada itself is an outlandish creation, but nevertheless Mieville mostly manages not to show off about it. The characters too are considerably less punchable than the principal players of Perdido Street Station. We also get to learn a little more about the 'Re-made' - the criminals who have been magically and medically modified as a punishment in New Crobuzon. The Re-made are not the pariahs in Armada that they are in New Crobuzon, and it's small wonder that Tanner Sack, tentacles grafted to his chest, immediately becomes fiercely loyal to his new home. Uther Doul, the Lovers' bodyguard whose chilling charisma could be Bellis' downfall, is a brilliant creation, as are the anophelii, a race of grotesque mosquito-people confined to a barren island. I also enjoyed Silas Fennec, the duplicitous spy. This time around, Mieville has managed to create characters who are fascinating but not self-consciously so, and The Scar is a better novel than Perdido Street Station because of it. Bellis herself, from whose point of view the bulk of the story is told, is a cool-headed, analytical rationalist, and I note that some readers feel that this makes her too cold, too sterile, to lead a novel. I disagree: I found her entirely credible, and the ache of homesickness she feels for New Crobuzon is something with which I could certainly empathise all too strongly.
The Scar is a big novel full of big ideas and grand concepts. I still feel that it could have been a good 150 pages shorter, but that aside, this is definitely one worth getting stuck into - when it comes to Mieville, perhaps I'm finally starting to see what all the fuss is about.
on 26 October 2002
China has once more returned us to the land of the wildly weird, the stuff of nightmares, the packaging around an intensely complicated plot of obsession, mystery, betrayal, and twisted desire. Set in the world of Bas-Lag that he first introduced to us in Perdido Street Station, this work shows us a much wider view, a diorama of images and creatures that at first blush seem incredibly impossible, not related to our world at all, but one quickly finds motivations and emotions that ring around both your heart and your head.
Tinges of Melville surround the overarching story of the hunt and capture of a true miles-wide Leviathan, but trying to pigeonhole China is an impossible task, as one finds elements from Bram Stroker to Dickens to Richard Burton all thoroughly churned into this mix that China makes uniquely his own. Trying to predict what will happen or what a character will do is an exercise in futility, doomed to failure as China continuously surprises you. His characters, for all their incredible physiognomy, are recognizably human, richly detailed while maintaining depths that are just out of reach.
Uther Doul is a true man of mystery, wielding his Possible Sword and twisting events (and possibilities?) for his own unknown desires, the prime mover of the events in this story. Bellis Coldwine is the main viewpoint character, in some ways equivalent to Ishmael of Moby Dick, an observer who nonetheless takes important actions that have definite influences on the final outcome; cold, distant, but yet one who gets caught in more than one love affair. The Brucolac, a real, practical vampire; Silas Fennac, the New Crobuzon spy; Tanner Sack, a Remade man who is the epitome of loyalty yet will still betray his chosen country of allegiance; each character adds their own touch of flavor and complexity to this bitter and compelling tea. And in the distance are The Lovers, erstwhile commanders of the motley collection of ships that make up the Armada, defined by their odd sexual practices, practices that leave them mirror-image scarred, a metaphor in flesh of China's thematic investigation of the cuts and scarring that happen to and are part of the definition of everyone.
China's strength is his incredibly descriptive prose, much in evidence here, but the picture he paints is not as monochromatically dark as it is Perdido Street Station, as he dips his pen with bits and swirls color, highlights poking out of his black felt. His pictures of his diverse creatures are not as detailed as they were in the earlier novel, especially not for those creatures and near-human species that not new to this book. For this reason alone, I recommend reading Perdido Street Station first, so that one comes to this book steeped in the environment, the depressive bleakness of the earlier work.
The plot is a continual set of twisting surprises and seeming diversions, but each part is fully tied to the climax of this work. In this area, this book far exceeds his earlier work, showing all the signs of meticulous planning, where each element is necessary to the story, and events are driven by the complex interaction of each of his characters, rather than mere happenstance or coincidence.
My only real complaint with this book was the Coda that is tacked on after the main climax. While this Coda neatly wraps up all the unanswered questions and provides closure to some of the splinter stories, I felt it was unnecessary and spoiled the power of the highly emotional main ending line.
With this book, I feel that China has entered the top flight of today's speculative fiction writers, mature, confident of his mastery of the art of story telling, with a voice that uniquely and compellingly his own. I predict this book will take all the various awards for this year, and I can look forward to many more years and many more great reads from this brilliant new fable spinner.
on 24 August 2011
China Miéville continues to write in an intriguing, suspenseful and highly stimulating way. Far away from the land-locked city of the first novel we are on the high seas, and seeingly all at sea with the uncertainty of the reasons for the protagonists need to get away. But soon the unfamiliar becomes familiar--in the usual Miéville universes, that is, and we are within a very different kind of city and one with strange rules and leaderships, and a quest. It is a gripping and engrossing tale. Worth developing a taste for, if you jhave not tried Miéville before.
on 26 April 2002
Having read 'Perdido Street Station' cover to cover in two days, I was somewhat worried by the advertised absense of the thing that made the first novel great: New Crobuzon. But while Armada does not have quite the same character, this is more than made up for by the story, which has a somewhat more satisfying conclusion than the first. All I can say is 'More Please!'
Given the huge success of China Mieville's second novel Perdido Street Station, a follow-up was eagerly expected, but Mieville has bucked expectation by setting The Scar in an entirely different area of Bas-Lag - as such readers hoping for a return journey to the vivid city of New Crobuzon will be disappointed, though to be fair having explored it so thoroughly already any follow-up utilising the same setting may well have suffered from diminishing returns. Instead The Scar is set almost entirely on the floating city state of Armada - a pirate city that is comprised of a mass of stolen ships lashed together, and follows the fortunes of two shanghaied inhabitants: one of whom is desperate to escape, and the other who having been rescued from a prison ship finds a haven on Armarda.
As such, The Scar is the best sort of sequel, in that it is only tangentially linked to the previous novel - in this instance the lead heroine is initially on the run from New Crobuzon because she is wrongly suspected of being involved with the Slake Moth outbreak that drove Perdido Street Station. However, while you don't therefore NEED to have read Perdido Street Station in order to enjoy The Scar, I would still recommend reading the previous volume first for one simple reason - it's slightly better.
The Scar is filled with fantastic concepts -the city of Armada itself; the leviathan avanc that the Armadan's plan to harness to their city; an island of terrifying mosquito women; and a scar in the fabric of Bas-Lag seemingly created by a crashed alien spaceship that bleeds out quantum instability, and the characters are compelling, but the crucial difference between The Scar and Perdido Street Station is the lack of narrative tension this time round. In Perdido Street Station the narrative was driven by the deadly threat of the Slake Moths, and the characters desperate attempts to contain the threat before the creatures spawned - in The Scar the threat is much more nebulous - whether it's the threat of the monstrous Grindylow hunting someone on board Armada, or the Lover's quest to drive Armarda into the Scar, the threat's are always somewhere over the horizon, and during the novels middle section the book feels rather becalmed. As with Perdido Street Station this is a brick of a novel - unlike Perdido Street Station this feels in need of a little editing.
Still - a fine book, but one it's easier to admire than love.
This book has some fantastic (in every sense) writing. At its best, there is vivid prose and stunning imagination.
Sadly, this can't sustain an entire novel - especially not one this long - and, in other respects, Mieville's writing isn't anything like as good. His characterisation is sometimes rather weak. For a writer with a natural gift at describing a sense of place, the central location, a vast floating city, seems oddly unconincing in some ways.
The ending was a true disappointment: obvious when it should be subtle (in terms of what I think was supposed to be something of an unexpected reveal), leaving too much unresolved and the final climatic showdown between two of the characters is, weirdly, something that happens entirely 'off-screen'.
All-in-all, I was left more with a feeling of what might have been. If it could have sustained the heights of imaginative power and story telling this book would have been amazing; as it was, it suffered because it didn't and more disappointing because the potential seemed so great.
on 10 July 2012
I've loved his other books and there is a lot to enjoy about this one too. Sure its a bit long but its full of good storylines so I've no complaints about that.
However the ending did disappoint massively, another review described it as fizzling out which seems a bit right.
However in addition to fizzling out it was a bit annoying that the contradictory and confusing behavior of some of the characters was not elaborated on. In particular one of the main characters, who seems to be discretely directing events, remains an enigma right to the end of the book. You never know for sure what he did, but you also never understand why he behaved in such and odd an contradictory manner.
That would be fine if you felt these characters were going to appear in future books, where the reasons for there enigmatic behavior was explored, but I doubt that is the case.