Over the holidays I didn’t do that much reading. Too busy with music, films, Nintendo Wii. I did finish one book, however – The Scar. It’s a gritty fantasy by China Mieville – featuring a strange mix of alien-races, a cornucopia of borrowed mythologies, steam punk technology, political entities on the verge of empire. The subgenre is appropriately titled New Weird.
Here’s the blurb – Bellis Coldwine, a citizen of New Crobuzon (an imperialistic nation-state in the vein of Victorian England), is fleeing to the colony of Nova Esperum. Her ship is waylaid by pirates and she’s taken to the floating city of Armada, a vast collection of vessels lashed together. Now a prisoner, she’ll come in contact with the leaders of Armada – a fetishistic duo called the Lovers, an unstoppable warrior named Uther Doul. Even as she plots to escape, she finds herself aiding Armada in its devious goals.
Mieville demonstrates some fantastic world building skills. There are troves interesting tidbits thrown into The Scar – strange languages and races, imaginative locales, machines and beasts, even a magic system that meshes well with a fantastical interpretation of quantum physics.
The one weak point is the character of Bellis herself. A good portion is told through her POV, writing a letter to a friend. She lives up to her surname “Coldwine”, as she’s a frigid complainer. Mieville sometimes falls into the trap of overwriting character interaction, jotting off a paragraph of internal musings for every line of dialog. He doesn’t let the actions and words of his characters paint them. Instead, he explicitly catalogs every misgiving and annoyance. For that, the novel feels a bit stillborn.
But it’s pulp and the fun parts are the visions of grand sea battles, leviathans from the deep, exotic weapons and strange magic. Mieville certainly has some talent, and I’ll be sure to pick up his other stuff when I’m in the mood for some lighter reading.