Saturday, November 2, 2013

Book review: "Perdido Street Station" by China Miéville

I have finished reading China Miéville's "Perdido Street Station" almost two weeks ago, but I had so hectic last two week that I didn't have time to blog about it. I actually read this book a long time ago once, borrowing from the library. I had a notion that I remember this book quite well so I was reluctant to buy it, but I wanted to reread it before going to next two books ("The Scar" and "Iron Council"). So I decided to buy it after all - and ended quite surprised how much actually I have forgotten!

"Perdido Street Station" is one of those books that are really hard to describe, especially their plot. Whatever I write, I will miss the point. But here is a try... "Perdido Street Station" tells a story set in very imaginative setting, the City of New Crobuzon, which includes magic, alchemy, science, science fiction, insect races, magical races, demons, spider-gods, cyborgs, artificial intelligence, flying people, oppression, horror, religion and education, among a bunch of other things. In the midst of it is Isaac, a underground scientist who, working on another project, happens to free a strange breed of gigantic moths that feed on people's conscience. Moths start to terrorize the whole City and Isaac becomes target to both the totalitarian regime the rules the City and by a drug-lord that was making money by moths, which forces him to try to catch the moths on his own...

I haven't read much books by Chine Miéville (only this one and "The City and The City"), but even I know that he is famous by his imaginativeness. And this is quite obvious here, especially in the first part. First part of the book especially, but also the book in whole is written in "look at my beautiful garden" form (I borrowed this from Jo Walton and her review of "Aristoi"), where Miéville plays and shows off his imagination. But this is a good thing because he builds a great setting - the list I mention in previous paragraph is only a part of it, notions I could describe in one word. He sometimes goes quite deep in details, like with descriptions of khepri's society, or with the handlingers. But here is also the problem of this book. Even to me, who like this kind of stuff, this wild and weird setting managed to become too tiresome on occasions. Imagination is good, but there has to be some boundaries. Luckily, this happened only few times while reading the book, so it can be forgiven.

It would take too much time to mention all great ides Miéville shows, but I have to note the Weaver and the daemons. I am really curious what more can he think of in the next two books with same setting to keep this level of freshness...

As with the setting, there is a bunch of characters in the book, but only two of them can be said to be main characters. Isaac is one, of course. He is an eccentric, a genius dropping out of college, hanging out with artist and working for the criminals. On the other hand, he is fat, clumsy, and not really someone you could look upon to. This is what makes him such a lovable and aspiring main characters. The other one is Yagharek. We don't get much from him, and I don't want to reveal spoilers, but those short intrusions with his POVs were really impressing. Miéville succeeded in giving him a very powerful voice, for all his tacitness. As I said, there is bunch of other characters, but with the exception of maybe Lin and Derkhan, they are not too important. But you can be sure that they are written in detail and flamboyant as the rest of this book.

His writing is very good. Although he can become tedious with the details, it can be forgiven. The book is violent, dark and graphic. And after finishing it, I realized that it is maybe a bit too depressing, with no happy end too much pain. Also, the book has a lot of morally questionable or rightly unfair decisions. A big example is with the sick old man in the end. The government, who is in the beginning described as comically evil, turns out to be the real villain.

Another thing I wanted to mention is my surprise with how much of this book I have forgot. When I started reading it, I had a misconception that I know it from the beginning to end, especially the plot. First I was surprised by the quantity of details I really had no recollection about. But the real surprise came when I finished two thirds of the book and realized that I have no idea how the book ends! The moth-hunting, I had no idea about it. I felt like I was reading a different version of the book, with the same beginning but a different ending. And to thing how much pride I put on my memory...

So, if you like weird books, a lot of details and imagination large as an ocean, "Perdido Street Station" is a book for you. You can think about China Miéville as a dark and gritty version of Terry Prachet, having fun on the tropes. Not a book I would recommend to exclusive fans of classical fantasy a la Tolkien.

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