Saturday, December 03, 2005

On a first reading of Iron Council

The first time I even heard of China Miéville was on TORC, where someone reccoed Perdido Street Station with more enthusiasm than I'm used to. So I was vaguely on the lookout for it, and found it in April 2004 in Teksons. I might not have bought it even then, but there was a blurb by Neil Gaiman on the cover, and (turning to the acknowledgements page) a nod of gratitude to Mervyn Peake. I had to buy it.
Perdido was a brilliant book - very strong and very painful, at the end. I loved the detail that went into the history and geography of Bas-Lag, the politics, and (most of all, for some reason) the Ribs. Here was the potential for something as vast as Tolkien, as lush as Peake and as real as..well...reality. Because even if bug-headed womden and walking cactii aren't a part of our real life, politics, multiculturalism, drugs, alienation, corruption etc are.

The Scar was obtained from the library and finished in one, long sunday session (which was technically partly a monday session, since I finished at some obscene hour). I liked it more than Perdido. There's something about novels which include travel (especially travel by sea) that makes me want to fly up and look down upon them from some ridiculous height. Too many movies, perhaps.
Plus, The Scar had Uther Doul, one of the best characters I've read in ages. And a linguist/librarian/frigid bitch for heroine? Perfect. The Scar was just magnificent...everything about it was big and operatic. Giant creatures from other dimensions, giant cities made of ships, big manly men, all on the sea, which is just about the vastest canvas on Earth.

Which is why I was so eager to read Iron Council. It's also why I'm slightly disappointed with it.
There's nothing wrong with this book. New Crobuzon in a time of turmoil (but then, have we ever seen it in any other way?) is interesting, but the war with Tesh isn't really that exciting. It's a really good story, but somehow it isn't as engaging as the previous books. Perhaps it's a matter of expecting too much - I was blown away by the first two, this one I only enjoyed. It could be just me. Iron Council did win the Arthur C Clarke award, judged by minds far greater than my own.

But you know, just when I find myself forced to admit that this isn't his best:

Bastard, Cutter thought, tearing up, trying to speak. Bastard to say that to me. You know what you are to me. Bastard. He felt his chest hollow, felt as if he were falling inside, as if his very fucking innards were straining for Judah.
'Love you Judah,' he said. He looked away. 'Love you. Do what I can.' I love you so much, Judah. I'd die for you. He wept without sob or sound, furious at it, trying to wipe it away.

My literature student side is tugging frantically at my sleeve, telling me how this is cliché and repetitive and seeks to distance itself from what it really is with the use of swearing. My person-reading-book side is touched. It's simple, but for some reason I find it astonishingly beautiful.

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