The Scar returns us to the wonderful world of Bas Lag, first encountered in the award winning novel Perdido Street Station. This time however we are far removed from the dirty, winding streets of New Crobuzon and thrust into the wider world, adrift on strange tides and weird seas.
The floating metropolis of Armada purports to be a free city, advertising itself as a place of refuge for those who would be otherwise subjugated or oppressed; and yet it is still strictly controlled in reality, a place where no one ever leaves except straight down to feed the fishes.
The talented linguist Bellis Coldwine finds herself a reluctant inhabitant after being press ganged by Pirates while she is running from New Crobuzon and becomes embroiled in an ambitious and highly dangerous project.
I loved Perdido Street Station and the world of Bas Lag, it's such a vivid mix of steampunk, weird fantasy and urban fantasy and in "the Scar" it's almost as if he's re-inventing urban fantasy - at the very least re-imagining it, the very idea of the city Armarda is simply genius. The author does an incredible job of describing this floating behemoth, a visual, visceral delight that confound the senses and tax the old grey matter.
The protagonist is as unlikely as any others Miéville has previously created, a strong female role and also one who is clearly not the perfect human; aloof, cold hearted, arrogant, selfishness and manipulative in equal measures, not a person who is easy to get to know. As a result it takes some time to even relate to Bellis and I never really formed a strong bond with her but this does have a feeling of being deliberate; that the author didn't want us to get too close, allowing the reader to concentrate instead on the surrounding cast of characters (my favorite being the enigmatic Uther Doul), the city itself and more importantly the slowly building story.
In Perdido Street Station the focus was firmly placed on the myriad races that make up the world of Bas-Lag however here it's more the "remade" who take the center stage in a city that despite being a floating prison doesn't treat them any different than anyone else.
I love the way that Miéville writes with such attention to detail, each of the minor events and descriptions build up and cumulate in the spectacular; he also plays with the reader figuring out just exactly what is going on, changing the game plan and introducing a number of red herrings. His usual flair with language is evident, although for some reason he seemed to be in love with the word "puissant" (which strangely enough I used for the first time just prior to starting this book) mentioning it at frequent intervals throughout the novel.
The slowly uncovered plot is both inventive and well paced with only a few slow areas (not bad in an 800 page novel) while the epic scenes are described with such skill that completely immerses the reader to walk the planks of Armada, smelling the salt air (and worse), listening to the sounds and being jostled by the people.
The Scar is an exceptional novel, rich and captivating - a celebration of the fantastic and a literary tour de-force.
Written on 14th January 2013 by Ant.
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