on 8 February 2014
This perhaps the book in Mieville's loose Bas lag trilogy that sits the least well with the other two. Whilst the first two are excellent adventure stories, they can stand alone as incredibly inventive fantasy. Perdido could also possibly fit in the horror genre as well, Whilst The Scar is an excellent "pirate' tale (although i use that term very loosely, for that is only the basis for this excellent epic piece of fantasy). Both were marked by their excellent world building and characterisation, something which i hope means that these books will be around for a very long time. Iron council on the other hand, is a completely different affair to the other two, being a story set in an already defined world, but being a story more of ideas than anything else. The concept of the Iron council, the runaway train turned revolutionary state is excellent, and it is this idea that dominates the storyline, Characters and everything else fall by the wayside, although this possibly helps the narrative, with the sheer insignificance of ordinary people against the monothlithic state that is new Crobuzon, and the way they are just caught in and driven by events. The fact that the characters are less involving does make the end result a little less rousing than the other two books, but this is more of a slow burner, and is perhaps the most powerful of the trilogy. It's just so completely different from the other two that many readers seem to have difficulty making the transition. It can be a tough read, particularly as Mieville seems to have broken the english language, but it is well worth the effort.
on 25 September 2006
Mieville sets a new bench mark for Sci-Fi creativity with this book. His inventiveness twists so many dimensions of culture, space, time and social norms that it can leave the reader reeling and confused. It is not just the challenge of imagining Mieville's many and varied creatures and landscapes that makes this book different. It is the way he spins what is essentially a heroic yarn - a group of revolutionaries try to save the city that spawned them - into a new millenium morality tale.
In doing so he treats the English Language as a watch-maker who is forced to mend a watch with a plastic spatula - it is so inadequate for the task at hand that Mieville invents a vast new lexicon to help himself describe the weirdity he has invented. Absolutists beware - it is rarely worth reaching for the dictionary as he has moved English on a phase and the dictionary has yet to catch up.
This is not a book for the prudish - his characters are raw, mainly male and spend quality time with each other and aliens. They are made to suffer physically and emotionally, perhaps helping us to divine the author's world view - this book presents life as a bitter struggle against domination by others, the oppression lifted only by hope for the future and stolen moments with those you love.
If you are looking for an easy read - this isn't it. It is no surprise that in working the imagination and lexicon so hard, Mieville loses readers along the way. So many literary special effects detract from the characters who generate little affection, and the plot itself is quite simplistic - just follow the spirals.
Despite that, there is real joy to be had throughout this book. To share in the wonderful creations of its author - cactus men, smoke stone, the Remade and city-sized eyes is a privilege, and Mieville expertly evokes the revolutionary fervour of the late nineteenth century with his Marxist plots, trade unions and seditious pamphlets. It is an Arthur C Clarke prize winner, and if the prize is awarded for creativity then it is well merited. However I suspect that it is the readers themselves who will feel deserving of a prize for seeing this book through to the end.
on 27 January 2005
There are several stories woven together in this novel - another on the New Crobuzon series (if you would call that a series). The very first is an expedition of New Crobuzon 'rebels' let by Cutter, setting out to find Judah Low and the Iron Council. The second theme is Judah's own tale - an observer and prospector for a new cross-country railroad, then a mage, and then a revolutionary. This is inextricably bound up with the tale of the train itself - slowly moving across the face of the world as the track is built, finally revolting from its overlords, workers and train taking off on their own. The strange ecology that comes into being as a feral train and those that keep it independent and moving it the Iron Council. Now something of a legend back in New Crobuzon, and hated by those it rebelled against.
Back in the city itself, the themes of oppression and revolution play themselves out. Ori, a young man, is drawn into the mild sedition or an organization (perhaps it is a 'dys'organization) called the Caucus. These meet secretively, engage in mild guerilla politics, but are mostly a discussion forum. Finally dissatisfied, he shifts to a more violent form of protest, let by the bull-headed Toro on a quest to kill New Crobuzon's mayor and bring down the current regime. New Crobuzon itself returns as a major theme, much like the one it played in Perdido Street Station. But while that book saw the city as something vitally and sometimes fearfully alive with both horrors and delights, Iron Council presents a picture of a degenerating social class struggle, a collapsing economy, and an increasing oppressive government.
The stories are sometimes disjoint, but inevitably intertwined, as the Iron Council becomes less a group of angry train builders and more a symbol for what is happening in the city. The great, peripatetic path of the Iron Council leads inevitably back to the city. The war with the Tesh rides on the insurgency. Judah, Cutter, and Ori are the players that tie these threads together into an unnerving tapestry straight out of Hieronymus Bosch.
When an author who has been consistently excellent falls short of his previous efforts, there is a tendency for the reviewer to be excessively critical in response. While I intend to avoid that extreme, Iron Council has some very real flaws that deserve some attention. The first is the extremely slow start of the story lines. Most of the first half of the book is the history of Judah and the train. While the core facts of this history are vital to an understanding of the story to come, Mieville seizes on the opportunity to show off his control of language. Scenery is described in almost excruciating detail and the writing style, full or portent and metaphor is florid, even to the point of invented words. By the time the story became more than historical narrative this reader was feeling a bit dazed, and I had a great deal of trouble re-establishing my reading momentum.
On top of considerable linguistic skills, Mieville is an extremely inventive author. But in Iron Council he, like the city itself, becomes too dependent on mechanism. Judah is a golem master, and these creations play dues ex machine roles in moving the story forward. Just as the city makes monsters out of human, machine, and animal parts, Mieville constructs his own version of the English language, with its own occasional horrors. The reader is often undecided if he is reading a work of fiction, a metaphoric autobiography, or something written purely for display.
If not as readable as Mieville's previous books, this is still a landmark effort and should be accorded respect. It isn't a 'reader friendly' book - none of the New Crobuzon novels are really that - but it is one that generates both thought and new ideas in the reader. If you are new to the series, start with Perdido Street Station, since this story is very much embedded in that one. If you are looking for stylistic parallels then you will find Mieville's facility with language quite similar to Umberto Eco's, and can make your decision accordingly.
on 4 July 2013
In many ways a very impressive book and has the author's customary mix of outlandish ideas and colorful characters. Overtly political - no bad thing- but very ponderous in places. The action sequences (of which there are many) - are sadly rather flat. Rightly known for his rich and complex prose, Mieville usually just about keeps to the right side of pretentious but unfortunately I think he's overstepped the mark here. Also like most of his works, I feel the editors have given Mieville way too much leeway and the book could easily have been reigned in by at least a 100 pages with no ill effects on the overall story arc or character development. Whereas Mieville's other two Bas-Lag novels (Perdido Street Station and The Scar) were fresh, dark, and challenging they were at least also great fun, sadly I found Iron Council a bit of a chore. Although ostensibly a standalone novel, I would definitely not recommend this to first timers to the world of Bas-Lag (unless you want to get hopelessly lost) - it would be a real shame to be put off from this otherwise fantastic universe.
on 22 August 2007
I know it's an awful cliche, but i actually couldnt put this book down. seriously.
yeh it doesnt start all that well with the search for Judah. but once it gets going it's breathtaking. the whole section about Judah's past was unforgettable and the sections during the attempted revolution in New Crobuzon was imense.
I know people disregard this book becuase of it's politics and the fact that i largely agree with his politics puts me in a better position to relate to the novel, but it is fantastic writing with astonishing ideas and.... well i can't really put it into words how much i enjoyed this book. it is not a happy novel and it is not an easy read but it is one of the most accomplished novels i have read. i was completely engrossed in the story and as i have thought of all his Bas-Lag novels, a fantasy world has never been so complete.
on 14 December 2004
The real flaw this book is that it is different.
Mieville has moved from the urban landscapes of his first three novels and created a book, which is about journeys real and psychological. The book is also a great deal more political than his previous novels and as such becomes too human. The book also lacked the independence of the other three novels; you have to have read Perdido Street Station to understand the world these events are occurring in.
With all due respect to other reviewers who have slated this book, I suspect it is more a reaction to the book's differences rather than its quality.
‘Iron Council’ is China Mieville’s 2nd sequel to ‘Perdido Street Station’, and as with ‘The Scar’ before it while it is not a direct sequel any new readers will certainly be missing out on much essential background detail if they don’t read the other books first. The story is essentially about a revolution of the underclass in New Crobuzon, and the narrative is divided between the tales of civil war in the city itself, and a desperate attempt to summon help from the mythical Iron Council. While the revolution in New Crobuzon drives the narrative, the real meat of the story concerns the typical fantasy ‘there and back again’ travelogue to reach the Iron Council, and a lengthy flashback which provides both a background for the main character Judah Low and the history of how Bas Lang’s first railway transformed into a mythical lost society. As with his previous novels Mieville is strong on inventive weirdness, with magic, monsters and the bizarre half-human remade, but his characters are strong enough to provide a real emotional core for the book. I’m at a loss as to why some reviewers seem to think this novel represents a change of style for Mieville, or is overly-political (the revolutionaries in New Crobuzon are clearly defined and there is little here that hasn’t already been set up in the previous novels), and having re-read both ‘Perdido Street Station’ and ‘The Scar’ immediately before reading this 3rd novel I can really detect no overt differences at all. And that’s all for the good – ‘Iron Council’ is another wonderfully bizarre and ultimately moving fantasy, and highly recommended.
on 16 December 2013
Not the best of his three New Crobuzon books but it is still very much worth a read. The problem is that the book itself is a bit like the train it follows. It meanders around a bit to real point then rushes. It's hard to care for many of the characters and by the time you do care suddenly they're dead. However there are a sufficient range of interesting ideas and images to make the train journey a reasonably interesting one.
on 7 May 2012
[Contains spoiler] Mieville's universe offers a huge potential for original and enthralling storylines, unfortunately, the Iron Council turned out to be a real disappointment. The story drags on and on and I really had to push myself very hard to read the last third of the book (that's two hundred pages, read mostly in diagonal), hoping for some climax moment that turned out to be rather an anti-climax.
In its construction the novel reminded me a lot of Q by the anonymous Luther Blisset quatuor. In the later, the end does not matter as much as the narrative, the life of the characters. But here characters come and go with a few constant, with uncertain motives, if any. The authors seems to know what they are here for, we don't.
With the Iron council, boredom seized the reader quite early on. The political side does not shine by its dept and the story can be summarised as a train leave and then return. Endless description forces the universe into the reader rather than subtly laying layer upon layer (think Dune).
If you are interested in reading Mieville don't start by this one.
on 3 April 2011
Enjoyed this one a lot more than I expected to, given the mixed reviews. It's basically packed full of Bas-Lag brilliance, and written around a central theme that is superbly imagined (the perpetual train). So if you've enjoyed PSS and The Scar it's a no-brainer that you have to pick this one up.
That said, there's no overlooking the flaws of the book. There are structural problems, but as others have noted they're more flaws of ambitious writing, which is very forgivable. The first 100 pages are stultifying, and there are a couple of problems with the culmination of the book that I don't want to spoil by describing them. He's taking on a fairly complex story and the pieces don't all quite fall into place.
More seriously, the book is too long and the characterisation never really takes hold. A lot of the main players are weakly drawn and the supporting cast largely mills around cluttering up the place.
It's testament to Mieville's vision and imagination that the book remains so engaging in light of these weaknesses. Not an unqualified success like The Scar, say, but still a great read.