Thursday, February 16, 2012
Imagine a vast floating city. A place of legend ruled by a pair of enigmatic scarred lovers. It is a place where the past counts for nothing and the only things required of its citizens are secrecy and absolute loyalty. This city has travelled across oceans for hundreds of years using piracy as a means of maintaining its existence. Such a city exists it’s name is Armada and is the main setting for The Scar, the second in China Mieville’s series of New Crobuzon novels.
The novel opens with translator Bellis Coldwine sailing in The Terpsichoria, to Nova Esperium, New Crobuzon’s colony. Bellis is distant, cold and haughty. She doesn’t suffer fools gladly and with one exception refuses to fraternise with her fellow passengers.
As the journey progress The Terpsichoria receives new passengers in the form of prisoners who are on their way to a life of penal servitude in Nova Esperium. Numbered among the prisoners is Tanner Shack. Like most of the prisoners, who live in appalling conditions on the ship, Tanner Shack is remade. Meaning genetic limbs have been grafted onto his body.
The voyage for the most part takes place without incident until Bellis’s services as a translator are called upon. She must accompany The Terpsichoria’s captain as he journeys beneath to sea to carry out trade negotiations with the Cray people who reside there. Negotiations continue without incident until the Captain questions Cray officials about what suspiciously sounds like a mobile oil rig which has mysteriously vanished. Things take a further turn for the worse when the Cray people produce Silas Fennec a human carrying an official documentation from the New Crobuzon government giving him authorisation to commandeer any state registered vessel. The Terpsichoria’s captain agrees however reluctantly to obey the state’s ruling and Fennec orders him to sail back to New Crobuzon immediately.
As The Terpsichoria engages on its return journey it encounters pirates from the Armada. The captain and his officers are killed and passengers, prisoners and ordinary crewmembers are told that the past is over, everyone is equal so long as they show loyalty to their new rulers in Armada.
From here the novel could quite easily develop into A Pirates of the Caribbean style swashbuckling adventure on the high seas. Nothing could be further from the truth. As the novel progresses we learn that Armada is much more than a floating den of pirates. It contains a library, scientists, a thriving commercial sector amongst things. It is divided into a number of districts which are semi independent.
The most important district on Armada is Garwater which is ruled by the enigmatic couple known only as The Lovers who are the effective rulers of the ocean city. The Lovers have other plans other than marauding the high seas. These plans are only shockingly revealed as the novel progresses.
The real power behind The Lovers is the mysterious Uther Doul. Doul is perhaps the most interesting characters in the novel. He comes across as a merciless killer whose loyalty to Armada is absolute. Although Doul relates his personal history to Bellis it is what he leaves out which is intriguing.
Some chapters in the novel are genuinely frightening. At one point several members of the Armada land on an island solely inhabited by mosquito people. The scenes involving the Armadians fighting the islands mosquito women would grace any horror fiction.
Characters in the novel have a habit of meeting untimely and grizzly ends and l are dispatched in a merciless blood thirsty fashion. Fluffy loveable characters are notably absent in China Mieville’s world. One of the more memorable characters is The Brucolac, a vampire who contains all the characteristics of those fabled horrors.
There are subplots aplenty in this novel and I won’t spoil it for the reader and reveal them. Suffice to say that Silas Fennec is much more than he seems and really not to be trusted by anyone. Least of all Bellis Coldwine.
The Scar is not an easy read and I have to admit that this is my second attempt at this novel. But the rewards are many. The pallet on which Mieville paints his tale is gigantic in scope and intricate in detail. Mieville has a passionate love affair with the English language and creates whole terminology for his World. Sit back and enjoy the sheer inventiveness of most amazing voices currently working in genre fiction.
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