Monday, April 10, 2006

Review: The Scar by China Miéville

Miéville is one of most important voices in SF – period. His dark, gritty writing captures the reader, sucking them into his imagined world. The writing is intelligent and poignant, without becoming preachy – a fine line Miéville easily negotiates without being obvious to the reader.

The Scar takes places in Bas-Lag, Miéville’s fascinating and macabre world. The first novel set in Bas-Lag is Perdido Street Station, which is set in the massive, alien, yet familiar city of New Crobuzon. The Scar is set shortly after, yet we never see the streets of New Crobuzon. The Scar completely stands on its own, and is only tangentially related to Perdido Street Station. His third Bas-Lag novel, The Iron Council, returns to New Crobuzon some years later, and again stands alone.

The Scar follows Bellis, an intelligent and jaded women forced to flee New Crobuzon due to unfortunate coincidences and a military inquiry. On the journey to a distant colony, her ship is attacked and Bellis and the surviving passengers are forced to become citizens of Armada, a giant floating city of pirates. Fellow passenger Simon Fench has important knowledge that he must get to New Crobuzon, and he enlists Bellis to help. Bellis finds herself in the middle of the secret ambitions of the Armada and their plan to attain unequalled power.

Miéville’s world is a menagerie of personality and species. His world contains countless sentient beings, of which we see mosquito ‘people’, sentient cacti, sentient insects, aquatic species, vampires, and more. The setting is masterfully created, and not overdone in places as it was in Perdido Street Station. The Scar is the story of political ambition, the power of the people, manipulation, illusion, and of scars.

Miéville hits his stride in The Scar. The novel has almost none of the weaknesses of Perdido Street Station (not to imply that PSS is anything less than a superior novel and a classic). While the story is not quite as well constructed, it remains addictive. On my 10-point classification, where 5 is a take-it or leave-it novel and 10 is unsurpassed, The Scar ranks an 8 – Miéville is a must read for serious fans of the genre, and should be read outside of it.

Related Reviews: King Rat

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