Review: The Scar by China Miéville
Embassytown and The City and the City had already sold me on Miéville for life. Few authors alive or dead approach his wildly wonderful imagination. Perdido Street Station had merely reinforced this view. Knowing that The Scar also took place in the same world as Perdido had me anticipating perhaps a subtle diminishment in the weird.
Such anticipations were wholly unwarranted.
Bellis Coldwine is a New Crobuzon citizen who finds herself wanted by the authorities due to her tangential relationship to Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, protagonist of Perdido Street Station. She flees New Crobuzon and boards a ship bound from Nova Esperium, a satellite city on a distant continent, thinking she we wait out her pursuers. However, her plans are thwarted when her ship is boarded and raided by pirates, and she is taken captive by the entirely seaborne renegade nation Armada.
Though it possesses all the bureacratic apparatuses of a country, physically, Armada is a collection of ships that have been roped together and traverse the sea as one. The crews of captured vessels are either assimilated into their society or slaughtered. Determined not to end up in the latter category, Bellis feigns allegiance, but secretly harbors the desire to return to her native city. Meanwhile, Armada's leaders have plans of their own.
The Scar contains examples of everything that is wonderful about Miéville's writing. Unique races join the ranks of peoples introduced in Perdido, such as the ocean-dwelling Cray as well as mosquito beings with unique social problems, but don't worry, besides the humanoids, there are a fair number of monstrous entities lurking in the depths of these pages as well.
I discovered my favorite Miéville villain of all time within The Scar. He is capable of vomiting space-destroying void at his enemies. There is a scene in which he goes on a rampage, and it is absolutely gorgeous prose. Let me put that in no uncertain terms: Miéville has rendered the horror a creature vomiting void at his enemies in stunningly beautiful prose. Only Miéville.
Okay, so it's super imaginative and it's Miéville's typically gorgeous writing style, but is there a theme at the core of this thing to justify the enormous word count? Yup. Look no further than the title itself. The novel is riddled with characters choosing poorly and paying the price for those mistakes, often in ways which leave indelible marks on their bodies and on in their hearts. Even the center of Armada's power structure plays a role in this theme, as well as the very nature of the world the characters inhabit.
So, in short, great characterization, strong thematic core, and Miéville's typically brilliant narrative stylistics all combine to make this yet another awesome novel from a master of weird science fiction. A must read for anyone serious about their speculative fiction.