The Scar by China Miéville
Published by Macmillan
Hardback ISBN 0-333-78174-0
UK Hardback (suggested) price: £17.99

More of a tome than a book, The Scar is one of the six-hundred page novels that are so well prised when written well, and so dreaded when written badly. Written in the immaculate style of China Miéville, it guides one through the wonders of his world with a wonderful use of metaphor, an incredible imagination, and a hard-edged techno-slip world that is so real you’ll be simultaneously be glad you’re not there and envious to the inhabitants.

With a hard-to-put-down genre that merges sci-fi and fantasy with steampunk and horror and technoslip, The Scar is a gothic-dark and dreamed world that seems just slightly- ever so slightly- on this side of plausibility.

Set in the same world as Perdido Street Station, The Scar fleshes out the world of Bas-Lag even more than the first book. Whereas the first takes place in the metropolis of New Crobuzon, The Scar takes place in the city of Armada, a huge, floating city made entirely of ships joined together like some monstrous gestalt raft, a floating colony run by pirates.

At least mentioning almost all the races in the first book, and going over the little details that may be forgotten or not known to a new reader, China still manages to write these in a way that is not frustrating if one remembers such details from Perdido Street Station; it even mentions the events in New Crobuzon which were meant to have happened a handful of months before the start of the book.
However, the characters in the first book don’t even make slight cameos, though Isaac is mentioned once; the protagonist this time is called Bellis Coldwine, a name that some may find familiar, as it crops up in the first book too. (I won’t spoil the relationship here.)

With a multi-layered plot that brings up new plot-twists as old ones die away, The Scar uses China’s gift of twisting plotlines into strange shapes effectively; he often has two plotlines running seamlessly alongside each other without confusion on part of the reader. And, like Perdido Street Station, the title of the book only has real significance in the tale after a good half-way through this weighty but very readable novel.

At the beginning, Bellis is on board a boat called the Terpischoria, an ocean-bound slave ship from New Crobuzon, on its way to a new destination, a colony across the oceans called Nova Esperium. We find she is a cold woman who hates to show her feelings, and yet we also always seem to get a great insight into them, even as she faces all the strangeness in the novel. Parts are marked by entries from a letter she is writing, and others are marked as the thoughts of some of the lesser characters (who are nonetheless well fleshed out and have their own distinct causes, goals and personalities) as they face their own dire situations. Each event is linked to the others somehow, and the events you need to remember are reminded carefully, in such a way as you never fully forget but don’t get annoyed at the repetition. After this, the basic plotline already begins to twist off and play about, making anything described here a spoiler. China starts his stories at the start and ends them at the end, or more precisely three hours of contemplation on the book after the last page. His storytelling is masterful, and though every one of his characters is somehow unusual, it never seems to bother: on Bas-Lag, every one seems truly unique, and “normal” is out of the ordinary. From the Remade slave Tanner Sack and the marine biologist Johannes Tearfly, China gives us as much about the character’s in depth as the protagonist would know, and more in times where it’s more interesting. We are constantly surprised by the details and twists in the book, and the author seems to manipulate us in a way that would make many detective story-writers not so much green with jealousy as white with fascination.

China’s use of language is exquisite. He has a grasp of Latin and Greek and words from other cultures, and little-used but beautiful English words. The names of the cultures and ecology are wonderful, the descriptions intriguing but believable, and his spin on old traditions a master to watch; the new races he introduces, and the ones he fleshes out, are inventive and clever, if not fully believable with the pseudo-science he wages occasionally; introducing the Scab-Mettlers, beings whose blood clots almost as fast as it flows, allowing them to cut armour into themselves made from their own black-drying hardened scabs, and the Cray, amphibious lobster-people who own a city called Salkrikaltor.

Where the novel falls down is when one tries to analyse it or thinks over the facts in it. It is not so much its use of pseudo-science as the use of pure science alongside seemingly conflicting magic, something that doesn’t pop up too often; however, to give examples may also spoil them, because as long as one does not focus on such, they seem to slip by unnoticed relatively often.

China writes with fluent ease, and a grace with words that is rare in an author. While he is by no means flawless, he still has an awesome talent that rivals some of the better known names; while he may be no Dante, one may arguably say he rivals R.A. Salvatore or Douglas Adams in skill of writing.

This is a wonderful book written by a wonderful author, so filled with twisting ideas and plots that to say more than here could easily spoil some of the surprise. It is a novel recommended to everyone, regardless of genre preference, who likes an author with wordflair, and especially good for sci-fi and fantasy enthusiasts who want to argue which the book is.

For more information and a sample, go to www.chinamieville.co.uk.

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