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"The Scar" by China Mieville

Posted : 10 years, 3 months ago on 21 February 2008 08:30

This is the third book of Mieville's I have read, also being his third novel. Here is a rundown on some of the major plot points that can be revealed before reading it, thanks to Amazon.Com:

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“The Scar” begins with Mieville’s frantic heroine, Bellis Coldwine, fleeing her beloved New Crobuzon in the peripheral wake of events relayed in “Perdidio Street Station”. But her voyage to the colony of Nova Esperium is cut short when she is shanghaied and stranded on Armada, a legendary floating pirate city. Bellis becomes the reader’s unbelieving eyes as she reluctantly learns to live on the gargantuan flotilla of stolen ships populated by a rabble of pirates, mercenaries, and press-ganged refugees. Meanwhile, Armada and Bellis’s future is skippered by the “Lovers,” an enigmatic couple whose mirror-image scarring belies the twisted depth of their passion. To give up any more of Mieville’s masterful plot here would only ruin the voyage through dangerous straits, political uprisings, watery nightmares, mutinous revenge, monstrous power plays, and grand aspirations.

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There is one other point that is not present in the above description/review, and that being some of the city’s rulers (led by the Lovers) going after a huge sea-creature to help propel the city.

Now, as a whole, the plot is sort of lame. Hate to say it, but it is. However, we are talking about China Mieville. A comment was made by a reader about Guy Gavriel Kay, and that he could write about a peasant going to the well for a bucket of water and have you hanging on every word. Well, Mieville is not quite that good, but close. So he takes this lame idea and turns it into a very interesting 640 page novel. But even great writers can’t make everything fantastic.

As expected, Mieville’s prose is incredible. The world he has created in Bas-Lag, the palce/planet this novel and “Perdido Street Station” take place on, is gritty and very real. Mieville is great at description. Sometimes he goes to far, or uses his tools in a way that makes it too much. A great example was one character telling others of the events that he went through near the end of the novel. Mieville paints an incredible picture of the scene. But he does it through the words of this character. It seems out of line for this character to talk in such a way, given his earlier conversations, and if I was one of the other characters listening to his story, I would be saying, “Get on with it and tell us what happened!”

There were also a lot of characters, and we only got to see deep into one of them, that being Bellis. Now, I don’t expect to like every protagonist that I read about. Sometimes that is the point, to not like them. But by the end of it, I really didn’t care what happened to her, and I think the reader was supposed to. At times she was rather whiny, and even when one character told her that there was so much more that she was missing while just being lost in her misery, and that she saw that, it only lasted a short while. The one character that I would have liked to find out more about is Uther Doul. He was the Lover’s bodyguard, so to speak. He plays a big role, and sometimes when you don’t realize it. He is rather enigmatic too, which was good as a whole for the story, but could have been expanded in my opinion.

And one thing about the Lover’s, their names really annoyed me. Both he and she were referred to as The Lover with no way to tell who was speaking at the time until later when you would come across “she said” or “he said”. And they often would be talking to some one as a “team”, so it wasn’t ever clear. Mieville should have come up with a better way around this with all his inventiveness.

Now, it seems that I have slammed the book rather hard. In some ways, yes I have. But it really wasn’t that bad. At times it was rather exciting. At times I could see how lame the overall plot was, but the way Mieville shaped it, it made it work wonderfully. And part of fantasy novels is the world-building aspect of the story, and Mieville shines in that department.

I won’t give away the ending, other then to say it was a bit disappointing. One good point though was you were sort of left wondering what exactly happened to lead to the ending. Meaning, there were events that led characters to do what they did to end the story, but I was left wondering what or who had a hand in those events. In the “Coda” of the book (that’s right, he didn’t use “Epilogue”), Bellis states her opinions about it, but even so she is not sure, leaving me to wonder still, though halfway agreeing with her.

As far as the previous books that I have read of Mieville’s, this one was lacking in some key components, but still was a very good read overall. Because even a sub-par Mieville book is better then many other great books.


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