China Miéville

"Perdido Street Station"

(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie DEC 12, 2005)

"I will follow the trainlines. I will stalk in their shadow as they pass by over the houses and towers and barracks and offices and prisons of the city, I will track them from the arches that anchor them to the earth. I must find my way in."

"My cloak, (Heavy cloth unfamiliar and painful on my skin) tugs at me and I can feel the weight of my purse. That is what protects me here; that and the illusion I have fostered, the source of my sorrow and my shame, the anguish that has brought me to this great wen, this dusty city dreamed up in bone and brick, a conspiracy of industry and violence, steeped in history and batttened-down power, this badland beyond my ken."

In Perdido Street Station, author China Mieville creates the gritty, chaotic, macabre metropolis of New Crobuzon, in the world of Bas-Lag. The congested metropolis is, "a huge plague pit, a morbific city. Parasites, infection and rumor were uncontainable." This fabulously detailed parallel world of dark fantasy engaged me from page one, with its phantasmagoric characters and nightmarish landscapes. Its citizens, humanoid and other, are an extraordinary mix of bizarre races and species. One of the most fascinating things about the book is the language. Reminiscent of, but different from, the "nadsat" vocabulary in Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange , it is not difficult to decipher and adds authenticity, and a kind of poetry, to the surreal environment. The city's hub, the main station where all rail lines cross, is Perdido Street Station. Magic is a part of everyday life here, Hell exists, as does Satan, but electricity does not.

Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, a huge, graying hulk of a man, is a brilliant, if eccentric, scientist. One day a garuda bursts in on him, to his utter astonishment and delight. He had never seen one before, as their native environment is in the desert land of Cymek, far from New Crobuzon. The tall creature, Yagharek by name and title, has a bird face and beak, intense black eyes, and what appears to be a pair of large wings beneath his cloak. He has come to commission Isaac for a crucial job. Yagharek's tale is a tragic one. Garuda are nomads, meant to fly and live free in the wilderness. They are an egalitarian society and totally individualistic. Cities are anathema to them. As punishment for a crime, he was cruelly de-winged. Although he believes this extreme sanction is just, he cannot bear living earthbound. He wants to hire the scientist to restore his power of flight, naturally - without taking potions or using artificial contraptions. Isaac, is up-front with the garuda, and explains he is a "dilettante and a dabbler, not a chymist, biologist or thaumaturge." However, he believes he can do the job. Unfortunately, in his research on the physiognomies of flight, the scientist unknowingly unleashes the monstrous and lethal slake-moths to prey upon the citizens of New Crobuzon.

Lin, is a khepri, a race of human-insects (for some reason I always picture them as lobster-like), and a gifted artist. She sculpts, and spit is her medium. She is also Isaac's secret lover. Human and khepri mingling is forbidden. Actually, all interspecies relationships are frowned upon. Although Lin wants to reveal their relationship, Isaac wishes to avoid disclosure. He is much more conservative, while her circle of friends, artists, intellectuals and underground journalists, are considered libertines and bohemians. Mr. Motley, a mysterious crime lord, and art connoisseur, sees Lin's sculptures and admires her work. He has her brought to his office, in the dangerous underworld neighborhood of Bonetown, and offers her a commission to sculpt him - probably the most difficult work she will ever do. Motley is a Remade, one of the surgically altered people, usually remade for punishment. Their final forms(s) is directly related to their crime. Mr. Motley's body is a doozy of a Remake - the term chaotic is a mild description.

This is not an easy book to read. I was tempted a few times to abandon it, actually, because of the concentration it requires. But the story, multiple plots, and characters are so compelling, I had to return to the novel. The complex storyline is well paced, but it is almost impossible to read quickly and fully absorb the rich flavor and appreciate the detail. Parts of the book are slow, in fact they plod, especially in the second half. Again, however, it is necessary to read the entire narrative, and it is addictive, all of it, so once you begin, do not expect to put it down easily. In retrospect, I think it is a terrific and most unusual novel, and certainly plan to read more of Mr. Miéville's work.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 338 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Perdido Street Station at Random House

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Bibliography: (with links to

New Crobuzon Series: Other Novels: Teen Readers: Nonfiction:


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About the Author:

China MievilleChina Miéville was born in 1972 in Norwich, England.. He has lived in London since early childhood. When he was eighteen, he lived and taught English in Egypt, where he developed an interest in Arab culture and Middle Eastern politics. Miéville has a B.A. in social anthropology from Cambridge and a master's with distinction and PhD from the London School of Economics.

Perdido Street Station won the Hugo Award, Arthur C. Clark and British Fantasy awards; The Scar also won the British Fantasy award.

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