In a follow up to his acclaimed novel, Perdido Street Station, Mieville offers up a novel that falls short. For those that loved Perdido Street Station, this novel takes place in the same world where New Crobuzon exists, but follows characters aboard a floating city scrapped together from a multitude of ships. Mieville has something, which few fantasy writers do: a love for words. However, that doesn’t mean he should be free of editing or allow himself to get carried away. His books are epics spanning 600+ pages, but what in those pages is actually necessary for the story?
Some may argue that his descriptions ground the reader in the setting, and establish the overall mood (decay, grit, mistrustful, and isolation) that weigh on most characters and objects, but when this effect is achieved, do you have to continue throughout the novel? I found myself skimming the pages, because I could visualize the motley group of ships with new buildings sprouting up from their decks. I didn’t need to be shown over and over again.
Another failure of this book is that not much happens.
The rulers raise a sea creature, harness it, and travel to a reality warping stretch of ocean where there is a mutiny and they turn back. In the process the primary character realizes she’s been used repeatedly. I just saved you 623 pages of reading. Of course, I’m being a little harsh, but I wanted a lot more from this novel. Part of the problem is that I was not particularly invested in any of the characters. The primary character is someone who is reserved, cold and in control of her emotions. There is nothing to identify with or to sympathize. Who cares? Who cares what happens to her or anyone else? I’m thinking of epics with characters that are despicable whom a reader cares about. That leads me to Blood Meridian, full of deceitful killers, yet I care about them, I want to know what happens to them. There needs to be some resolution.
In this novel, not only do I not care about the characters, there is nothing that really ties it all together. Are we to find pleasure in Doul taking control of Armada, or Bellis returning home? It didn’t matter to me.
While Mieville has conceived a world that is diverse, dangerous and fantastic, it does not mean this is a well constructed novel. Even the shifts in point of view “interludes” as Mieville groups them, and letters written in the first person show this weakness. He can’t tell the story without bouncy around. It’s Bellis’ story, but not entirely. On the whole, this was a disappointment. If you read it, skim as much as possible, or even better, don’t bother.