Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Scar - China Mieville

This is the second book set in the world of Bas-Lag. While it comes after Perdido Street Station, it isn't exactly a sequel. Having an understanding of what the city of New Crobuzon is like helps a bit, but certainly isn't necessary.

The Scar is the story of Bellis Coldwine who has had to leave New Crobuzon following the events chronicled in Perdido Street Station (although she knows less about what actually happened there than you do if you've read the book). She didn't want to leave, and is deeply resentful of the events which have forced her to go, and of the places she is now forced to be. Bellis is an interesting character, hard to like at first, she is very cold and resentful, although it is easy to sympathize with her frustration at her current circumstances.

I think this may be my favorite Mieville story so far. The city of Armada is possibly the coolest city ever, and the world of Bas-Lag is totally fascinating. You get to find out so much more about the world than in Perdido Street Station. Mieville's in-cluing isn't nearly a subtle as some, but it is very well done. The characters themselves are wandering through a world which they don't fully understand, but simply have to accept and cope with, and the lack of upfront explanations for things forces the reader into this same mindset, which is really helpful when it comes to trying to understand a character like Bellis who is very cold and resists becoming involved with her new environment.

Armada is a floating city composed of hundreds of boats tied together. It travels, although very slowly, and is essentially a pirate economy. No one outside of Armada knows that it exists, and the Armadans work very hard to keep it this way. It has a really fascinating political structure with different individuals or groups in charge of policing the various regions of the city. I can't really imagine something like this working in reality. The effects of a large storm would probably be more severe than what's described in the story, and I can't imagine the boats themselves would be as structurally sound as they would have to be...but it is certainly plausible, and definitely interesting enough for me to happily ignore the fact that it probably shouldn't work.

Armada itself was my favorite bit, but there were so many other awesome bits too. The mosquito-people, the crazy library, the Ghosthead empire, the possible sword, the Lovers, Uther Doul. Every other page there was a fascinating new thing to think about, and the story unfolding as Bellis copes with life in Armada and her desperate desire to go home. The setting is almost better than the story...the story is just a scaffolding to hang all of the beautiful bits of scenery and background and character onto. Yet for all of that the story itself works too - it certainly doesn't detract from the scenery.

Overall, a ton of fun to read and definitely worth re-reading.

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