Bellis Coldwine is fleeing New Crobuzon. She has taken passage on a ship to the colony of Nova Esperium and hopes to find refuge among the criminals and Remade and other dregs of society unfit for New Crobuzon. The events of Perdido Street Station were only the beginning of more horror for the city and Bellis is escaping something that we are left in the dark about, some punishment. Before the ship can arrive at Nova Esperium it is attacked by pirates, the ship’s officers slain. The captives are brought to a floating city called Armada. Armada is made up of hundreds and perhaps thousands of other captured ships that have been connected by bridges and chains and welded together in places to form a great city. Armada is more than a graveyard of ships, it has a society and culture and a flow to it just as much as any other city. Only, in Armada humans live next to Remade and vampire and kheperi and cactus men and all manner of creatures. While in other cities there may be intermixing, nowhere it is it more pronounced than Armada. Many prisoners adapt to life in Armada fairly quickly as it is often a better chance at life than what they had been offered in the past. It is through the eyes of Bellis Coldwine that we learn of the plans to raise a mythical sea creature of massive proportions, and this only hints at what is really going on in The Scar. The story is much, much deeper and with levels of imagination that I can only hint at. Whatever the reader thinks is going on in this novel only scratches the surface as Mieville continues to change our expectations and understanding as he reveals more and more of the plot.
Reading Perdido Street Station I was impressed by China Mieville’s imagination in creating a world that felt very real and very alien and also by how dark and creative he was in telling the story. PSS goes to some very dark places that I could never have imagined if Mieville didn’t get there first. I was impressed and I admired his craft. I didn’t “like” it, though. It’s a nebulous term, I know, but what I’m saying is that Perdido Street Station failed to connect with me on an emotional level or a storytelling level. I was unable to truly engage with the characters or the story. A year or two passes and I decide to pick up The Scar knowing this was likely the last chance I would give Mieville. There was no instant connection like I find with other novels, but slowly the story grows on me. The exploration of what Armada is up to and who some of these characters are is engrossing. From the scarred freakishness of The Lovers (not the title Scar), to the otherworldly deadly calm of Uther Doeul, to the Remade Tanner, to the New Crobuzon spy to plots within plots within secrets, I wanted to know what happened next and what is going on. Once again Mieville’s imagination is on in full force with The Scar and this time there was a connection and engagement. The Scar does not go to such dark places as Perdido Street Station, but it is still dark and grimy and dirty and violent. It is also shockingly creative and original and fascinating. This is more of a showpiece for China Mieville and one which has given me reason to read more of his work.
Still, this does not count as one of the best (or favorite) books which I have read this year in terms of my holding the book up and saying “Yes! This is what reading and writing is all about!”, but Mieville does a damn fine job here.