Thursday, 17 January 2013

Curled Up Next to the Fire: The Scar

I've been curled next to this particular fire for a good long while. I have quite the stack of books to get through and after the delightful giggle fits of Guards! Guards! and the less-than-gigglesome, mildly disappointing and unspoken passage through Douglas Coupland's Microserfs, I decided that I need to tackle one of the larger books in my pile. A book I had been greatly looking forward to, given my experiences with the author's past offerings.

I refer to, in this instance, the 795 pages of awesome brilliance collectively known as The Scar.

The second offering in China Miéville's Bas-Lag trilogy (the first being Perdido Street Station, discussed with giddy excitement here), The Scar tells the story of Bellis Coldwine, New Crobuzon citizen, running from her demons, setting out across the sea to escape the invisible hand of the New Crobuzon militia, only to find herself the unwitting citizen of the floating city of ships, Armada.

Unlike Perdido Street Station, The Scar was not so much of a slow burn. The circumstances surrounding Bellis's arrival on Armada dictated that it could not be - the ship carrying her to the New Crobuzon colony of Nova Esperium being captured by pirates...that could not be handled in a sedate manner. From there, The Scar calmly sails on, unravelling this new aspect of the world, taking us aware from the New Crobuzon we had met in Perdido Street Station and introducing us to the wonders of Bas-Lag's oceans and its most complicated inhabitants, the citizens of Armada.

Given that this is book two in a trilogy, it's going to be hard not to put it next to its predecessor and draw comparisons. The biggest comparison I wish to draw is character. I babbled for a whole paragraph about how New Crobuzon, the city at the heart of Perdido Street Station and the most powerful city in all of Bas-Lag, was one of the novel's most intriguing and brilliant characters. Reading The Scar, Armada didn't feel like that. Armada was definitely a place, a setting. Fascinating in its own right, but not leaping out of the page like its own character. But, that said, Miéville's talent and brilliance created two characters that kept me thoroughly enthralled.

While the primary narrators, runaway Bellis Coldwine and Remade prisoner Tanner Sack, hold some sway and a lot of interest, it is two characters who play a lot of behind-the-scenes intrigue who I wanted to know more about. Two characters who were only ever seen through the eyes of others, two men at the heart of Armada's intricate power system.

Uther Doul - bodyguard to two of Armada's most twisted rulers and the Brucolac, a vampir, ruler in his own right, master of his own patch of Armada's collection of ships.

Once again, China Miéville has proven himself to be an absolute master of language and master of intrigue. Thus far, (counting The Scar) I have read four of Miéville's books. He has yet to disappoint me. The Scar, while not maintaining a roaring, relentless pace, pulled me along, snared me in a way that made me unable to turn my back on it for long. Today, it reached a point so close to the end that I had no choice but to sit down with a pot of Moroccan Mint tea (officially designated my Reading Tea) and blast through the last one hundred pages. And what an incredible one hundred they were. The whole 795 pages were incredible. There is something subtly seductive about Miéville's writing, that strange, inescapable lure of the fantastical that once it has you, you'll never turn back.

I keep talking in vague circles, not exactly pinpointing anything, with the exception of two brilliant characters. While it's easy to pinpoint and highlight those characters, while the delicious brilliance of Uther Doul and the Brucolac cannot be denied - the giddy excitement, the enticing snippets fed to the reader enough to slake the immediate thirst, but not enough to satisfy the growing hunger until the end is reached - they are part of an incredible whole. The Scar is a triumph, another glowing gold star next to China Miéville's record. There is one last offering the Bas-Lag trilogy, Iron Council. It sits in my book collection, awaiting its turn. A turn that will be a long while, as it is the latest purchase that must sit at the bottom of a eight/nine-book pile, whispering, suggesting, influencing and insinuating, a siren call that beckons me through the pile, telling me I must read on. As Armada trawls the oceans of Bas-Lag, I must trawl urban landscapes, vast starfields and oceans blue, towards the next offering of brilliance.

I will take this moment to admit that, under the influence of three mugs of tea, I am operating on a caffeine-fuelled hyperactivity - albeit a subtle, pervasive prodding one - that means I'm not 100% sure what I'm babbling about. But it sounds vaguely good.

In some form of summation, The Scar is absolutely brilliant. Equal to Perdido Street Station, maybe even with a slight edge on its predecessor. In a few months' time, we'll see what Iron Council has to say for itself. Until then, the fires will be stoked and I shall be comfortably curled up, indulging in worlds familiar and fantastical. 

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