rating: 5 of 5 stars
Gods and Jabber, I don't know why I love this one the most. It's not necessarily better than the other Bas-Lag Books (don't you dare call them a trilogy, don't you dare. Old China may write other books but he says he'll always come back to this; there's more to come), and it's nowhere near the worst. There's just something about this that feels so radically different, so alien,so apart from the others. Perdido Street Station was new and fresh and amazing, yeah, but it felt familiar enough--while still being strange and fantastic, of course--that you still felt just-so comfortable reading it (or as comfortable as you could be reading about sex with bug-people), and The Scar was a fun old adventure story, exotic and equally fantastic but still an ab-sequel to PSS.
But here, here, Iron Council rips us away from mid-1700s (Anno Urbis) New Crobuzon and tosses us thirty, forty years into a New Crobuzon that barely remembers the Midsummer Nightmares, and what's this? No more constructs? Jack's dead? Ben Flex is just a name? The fucking Militia's out?
You want the same old city, you wish it could stay frozen in time, but New Crobuzon is different. Changed. It's darker, uglier, more cynical. And even when Cutter and the others escape, chasing Judah on his quest for the Iron COuncil, the city still clings to them like an oil slick. The city in Isaac's day was hardly bright and cheerful, but back then it still echoed with adventure. Now the militia are out, and everything else had to go into hiding. It's time to go west to bring the Iron Council home.
That long out-west adventure/quest itself, and the long-ago middle piece detailing the long gestation and sudden birth of Iron Council, make up the bulk of the story, mixed with snatches of back-home reports of the small revolutionary movements taking place in the city, and this jump back and forth from cynical near-despair to hopeful optimistic questing is what makes this a hard, weird novel. It jumbles in places, it tosses about; it's not always a pleasant read, or an easy one. It's tougher, more political, more insistant. But it's so good. So rewarding. And even the end, that fat and unnatural anticlimactic-climax, that so-wrong final meeting of the Council and the City, even as you want to yell "that is not how it should have happened!" you cannot help but think "Yes, yes, that is how it was, how it is, how it should be." There is something strange and wonderful about Mieville's works that both frustrate and inspire.
Mieville likes playing with cities. New Crobuzon is exotic enough already, and the ship-city of Armada from TS was plenty awesome. Here we have Iron Council itself, the perpetual train, ungrateful child of New Crobuzon. Makes you almost giddy wondering what Old China will give us next.
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