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 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 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.
on 4 March 2015
I was really disappointed by this book, which has nothing in common with author's previous book 'Perdido Street Station'. It talked about lots of sex between men and women and men and men, violence and never-ending war. It was really annoying and I tremendously struggled to finish it to get rid off it for good. If author hinted at any government and American government's treatment of its own citizens and the Middle East in particular by talking about New Crobuzon's militiamen, I salute him. But I suspect he was far away from the idea. In this case I am lost what book was about and if there was any sense to waste lifetime by writing it. This book is not definitely the one I would ever read again. I have put it in a bag with other books which I am going to donate. Do not read it, save your breath.
‘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.
Mieville's conclusion to the Perdido Street Station trilogy is dense, magical, bewildering and brilliant. Out in the wastes beyond New Crobuzon a rag tag band searches for the legendary Iron Council, a train taken by rebels into the wilderness when the City refused to pay their wages. In New Crobuzon unrest is rife and the people are in covert revolt against their authoritarian rulers, themselves at war against the mysterious Tesh, and the two strands come into painful contact
Mieville introduces us to an incredible cast: Remade, people punished by the authorities by being surgically altered to be part machine; their rebel counterparts the fReemade; magicians; golems; all manner of creatures part bird, bat and insect; stomach churning spells, the visceral urban grit of New Crobuzon and the bewildering landscape outside where smoke turns to stone petrifying its victims and nothing is fixed. And all this in an opaque bewitching language that often had me reaching for the dictionary. Worth the work though.
on 1 September 2014
If you are a fan of China Miéville, then you will know what to expect. Without a doubt, some of his writing is truly brilliant, and some of his plot twists are equally unexpected.
However, sometime it seems the reader is drawn in a nightmare labyrinth of prose. I have yet to decide whether this is a flaw, or simply just the author writing at a level that is beyond me.
Having said that, this book struck me as being more accessible that previous novels by this author.
Treat this as an exotic meal, complex, and not entirely digestible, but at the same time, novel and the opposite of bland, and I am sure that you will appreciate the read.
on 25 August 2004
I ordered a copy of the US release of the Iron Council, having immensely enjoyed Perdido Street Station and the Scar. I was really looking forward to delving into New Crobuzon's dark and oppressive alleyways. China has an amazing way with words, the narrative in his novels and novella is superb and truly grips the reader refusing to relinquish is grasp.
Unfortunately, this novel really disappointed me, I found it difficult to get into, highly unlike any of China's other works; and must confess that towards the end of the novel I almost committed the ultimate sin of starting another book, The Scar, to make myself feel better. I found it very difficult to feel anything for the characters in the novel, which is a major departure from China's earlier work.
Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed some parts of the novel; but to me, it feels like a stop gap between fantastic pieces of literature, like the Perdido Street Station and The Scar. I feel that is would have been better served having come out of PS Publishing as a novella, like the Tain, which was very good and didn't have any padding in it.
There was some good material in the novel, the aftermath of the construct council, the cacotopic stain, the nightmares that plagued New Crobuzon some thirty year prior to this novel and Toro, all of which linked nicely into Perdido Street Station, which I had just finished re-reading in anticipation of the Iron Council.
As always, read the novel yourself and make your own mind up, but in my humble opinion, the ending isn't all that. I am just hoping I was having a bad week when I read the novel. I need to re-read The Scar and then I think I will give the iron council another go.
on 5 January 2005
Contrary to a number of reviews, I really enjoyed 'The Iron Council', and read it far more quickly than either 'Perdido Street Station' or 'The Scar'. I continue to wonder, however, whether the author is writing fantasy, science fiction or political polemic. Don't forget he stood as a far left candidate in the last UK General Election. His descriptions of New Crobuzon remind me more and more of Dore etchings of 19th century London - remember the one of huddled terrace housing dominated by a railway viaduct? The descriptions of the building of the 'Transcontintal Railway'remind me of stories of the constructionof the Union Pacific in the USA, again during the 19th century - built. of course, using mainly 'alien' labour. Note the credit that the author gives to Zane Grey. Is Bas-La intended to be the Earth, long in the future, after somecatastrophe has caused numerous mutations? The author uses neologisms created from Latin and Greek - 'heliotype' for photograph, 'voxiterator' for tape recorder/dictaphone/telephone (it is unclear which). The word 'chaver' is used amongstthe conspirators for friend/comrade. Surely this is a Romany word? The currency is in part 'shekels'. Or is this all done to tease and amuse? To doubters, I say, if you enjoyed the previos 'New Crobuzon' novels, read this. To newcomers to Mieville, read the books in the order of writing, to get the full flavour of this amazing world.