Thursday, 16 May 2013

The Scar by China Mieville




Scars are not injuries, Tanner Sack. A scar is a healing. After injury, a scar is what makes you whole.


The Scar lives up to its title. Everything and everyone at the core of this story is at a different stage of healing. Whether they have physical wounds, broken emotional bonds or tears in the world itself, everything will eventually leave a scar. Mieville has managed to craft a follow-up to Perdido Street Station which touches on deeper themes of loneliness and belonging. And pirates. Where Perdido Street Station was an introduction to the city of New Crobuzon, The Scar is far more wide-ranging; leaving New Crobuzon for climates new, and to places altogether much stranger than the city it leaves behind.

Bellis Coldwine is the central protagonist of The Scar. Continuing the theme of unorthodox central protagonists from Perdido Street Station, Bellis is a linguist. She’s named aptly; cold, mostly humourless and consistently conflicted by her own decisions. The novel begins in New Crobuzon, but Bellis quickly leaves, believing herself to be in danger from the militia. (In a nice nod to the events of Perdido Street Station) She finds herself a job onboard a naval ship as a translator; a ship which has a cargo of more than just trade goods. But this is all just set-up for the real storyline. When Bellis’ ship is taken by pirates and press-ganged into the floating city of ships known as Armada, she finds herself much further from home than she ever wished to be. And the rulers of Armada have bigger plans than anyone could possibly imagine – leading them to the greatest beast in the seas and the source of unimaginable power.

The Scar is a little shorter than Perdido Street Station, but still comes in at a hefty length. However, Mieville has managed to hone his talents between the two novels to create a book which moves along at a near perfect pace, from set-piece to set-piece. Where Perdido Street Station was a little flabby in its first quarter and to some extent in its last quarter, The Scar always moves briskly, and yet always allows the characters and setting room to breathe. On top of that, the plot is an absolute stunner – each individual part building to a huge climax and then starting all over again, but building on what’s come before.




In terms of imagination, Mieville is completely unleashed here. Perdido Street Station was layered with atmosphere and some very original ideas, but The Scar just goes one step further. New Crobuzon was a living city – you could feel every layer of grime seep into you as you read it. But Armada, the main setting for The Scar, could not be more different. I’ve never seen anything like it before. A floating city, made up of press-ganged ships from centuries of pillage, it is an incredible idea and expertly described by Mieville – and yet never to the point of overdoing it. The setting is there to tell part of the story – it’s just an incredible thing to behold on top of that.

Another area where Mieville improves on from Perdido Street Station is his cast of characters. As entertaining as they were in Perdido, only two or three had any real level of depth. The others felt like side-characters. Here, though, even the minor characters feel well-realised and important to the progression of the story. Whether it’s the reMade marine engineer, Tanner Sack, the effective rulers of Armada, The Lovers or the particularly awe-inspiring Uther Doul and his possibility sword, they all feel like they could live beyond the pages.

With The Scar, China Mieville has managed to build on the success of Perdido Street Station to create a novel which expands the world of Bas-Lag and tells a much more thematically cohesive story. You could read it with no prior knowledge of Perdido Street Station quite easily – some may even recommend you do so. But I think you’d miss out on the joy of having read that foundation which Mieville built in the last book. Where Perdido Street Station was essentially a very clever monster hunt, The Scar is a tale of just that: scars. The scars of relationships old and new. The scars of flesh, memory and emotion. The scars from political, personal and social wounds created in the previous Bas-Lag novel. And the scars of the very earth itself. It’s a seriously accomplished novel, and the best I’ve read from Mieville yet.  

4 comments:

Pabkins said...

Oh man that sounds hefty. I've never read any China but I do want to read Rail Sea - this sounds so intimidating yet delicious

Doug Smith said...

I'm not sure how well I will get on with Railsea, from what I've heard about it at least. The Scar is realy not that difficult a read - it's just crammed full of amazing ideas. Comes with my highest recommendation. :)

Blase Ciabaton said...

Do I need to read Perdido Street Station first, or can I dive right in with The Scar? By the way, thanks for taking the time to write this great review!

Doug Smith said...

Hi Blase,

You could quite easily read The Scar first. It's pretty much completely self-contained. There are some fun references to Perdido in there, but nothing that would either spoil the events of PSS or make this one a chore to follow. There's maybe a little more fun in reading PSS 1st, but it's by no means essential. Hope that helps!