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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Obsession of the Possible, 26 Oct 2002
This review is from: The Scar (Hardcover)
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.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 23 Jul 2010 10:48:00 BDT
Mr G says:
Useful review. I would also recommend reading Perdido Street Station first. The Scar makes perfect sense on its own, but you'll have more background to the extraordinary fictional world and its inhabitants if you've read the earlier book.
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