Sunday, February 2, 2014

Book review: "The Scar" by China Miéville

Few months after finishing "Perdido Street Station", I tried the next book set in the same setting, "The Scar". I was wondering will Miéville be able to pull it again.

"The Scar" is, as "Perdido Street Station", set in setting of Bas-Lag, but this time we are far from New Crobuzon. In the book we follow a New Crobuzon refuge Bellis Coldwine. After some problems back at home (connected to Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin and the events in PSS), she is running away, traveling by ship, with destination of New Esperium, a colony established by New Crobuzon. But during the voyage, her ship is taken by mysterious Armada, a floating city made of connected ships, whose existence was kept a secret for more than a thousand years. Struggling to find some way to escape, she is dragged into experiment whose goal is to summon an avanc, a gigantic otherworldly being. But as things go further, she realizes that the avanc in only a first step in plan made my one of Armada's rulers, the Lovers.

So, we are back to Miéville's imagination. I must admit that he did very well - he managed to expand the setting of PSS, introduce a bunch of new elements, one more bizarre than another, and without being inconsistent. As before, I noticed again a wink at "The Dying Earth", with seawyrms used for pulling and some other examples. Maybe I'm wrong, but "Perdido Street Station" felt much more technologically advanced than the "The Scar" - even though they have analytical engines and guns here, but too much swords, pistols and muskets. But I presume that Miéville wanted to go this book more piratical feel, which he certainly did. This pseudo-science he writes about is very interesting. Although , some of his descriptions are a bit too grotesque and too-much-information, especially about the Remade.

PSS was also full of implied places and organizations, but here, the setting feels much more expanded through time and space: The Gengris, High Cromlech, The Ghosthead Empire, The Malarial Queendom... Even the names are great.

The main character is Bellis Coldwine, but she is more an observer that doer. Oh, she does some important deeds, but she is mostly manipulated into doing them: by Sillas Fenec and by Uther Doul. I liked how all our misconceptions about the both of them were broken till the end of the book. The second main character was Tanner Sack. Even though he was well written and his sections were interesting, I just didn't felt any respect for him - he started and ended as victim.

The plot was very good but not as strange as were the setting and the characters. It had enough small surprises to feel interested the whole way, but neither is this the book written for the plot. Then ending will some consider a cheating, but I kind of liked it: it is one of those uncertain endings with ability to modify the whole book, depending on will you believe it or not.

As I hoped, "The Scar" ended being a similar book to "Perdido Street Station" in style, but with completely new elements that enabled it to feel fresh and original. I would recommend it to anybody who liked "Perdido Street Station".

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