Review: China Miéville – Perdido Street Station

HOW did I wait this long to discover China Miéville? Can anybody tell me why of all the recommendations I’ve been given, none ever enticed me enough to pick up this book? Well, I found my way in the end, and I have a lot more Miéville to discover.  This was an odyssey of a book and I admit, I dragged it out a lot, simply because I wasn’t quite ready to leave that world yet.

China Miéville - Perdido Street Station

PERDIDO STREET STATION
by China Miéville

Published by: Pan Macmillan, 2011 (2000)
ISBN: 9780330534239
Paperback: 880
Series: New Crobuzon #1

My rating: 9/10

First sentence: Veldt to scrub to fields to farms to these first tumbling houses that rise from the earth.

The metropolis of New Crobuzon sprawls at the centre of its own bewildering world. Humans and mutants and arcane races throng the gloom beneath its chimneys, where the rivers are sluggish with unnatural effluent, and factories and foundries pound into the night. For more than a thousand years, the parliament and its brutal militia have ruled over a vast array of workers and artists, spies, magicians, junkies and whores.

Now a stranger has come, with a pocketful of gold and an impossible demand, and inadvertently something unthinkable is released. As the city becomes gripped by an alien terror, the fate of millions depends on a clutch of outcasts on the run from lawmakers and crimelords alike. The urban nightscape becomes a hunting ground. Battles rage in the shadows of bizarre buildings. And a reckoning is due at the city’s heart, under the vast chaotic vaults of Perdido Street Station.

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I find myself in an exceedingly difficult situation. Trying to review this book without giving too much away but still being able to mention all the awesome things and ideas, seems unfeasible. Perdido Street Station is a trip into the teeming, filthy city of New Crobuzon. A place full of drugs and crime and slums and starving artists and even starving scientists. Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin is one such and the project of his life – building a Crisis engine – is going nowhere. When a stranger turns up with a seemingly impossible request, Isaac finds a new project to persue. But then, as things do in fiction, everything goes wrong and shit just won’t stop hitting the fan.

perdido 2

When China Miéville eases his readers into this word. the plot moves slowly, and he takes his time showing us around the city of New Crobuzon. But don’t worry. This is not just a tour around the city where we’re told that on our right hand side, we can see this species and on the left we see that species. But honestly, I wouldn’t have minded if that’s all it was. There are so many things to discover in New Crobuzon and while I think I got a general feel for the city, I haven’t seen nearly enough. We get some great insight into the khepri – people with human bodies but a bug as a head – as well as the garuda – winged humanoids with a bird’s head. But there is so much more. I could gush and gush about the many ideas but that would take away the fun of discovering them for yourself. And you should.

One idea in particular that caught my interest was the Remade, criminals who have metal or animal body parts attached to them to represent their crimes. How awesome is that! I also loved that every idea gets its proper time to be explored. As weird as it sounds, having just finished a book of 900 pages, I could have read about the Remade or the khepri, the vodyanoi, the currupt politicians, the drug lords and the criminal masterminds, for another 1000 pages.

The longer I read, the more I got the feeling that the author just put a whole lot of ideas into a pot, stirred, and out came an incredible city, densely populated by wonders upon wonders. As if that weren’t enough, Miéville also tells a gripping and terrifying story. The path of this 900-page-book is littered with plot-twists, ideas upon ideas, and not least, great writing. He had me fooled more than once and until it was over, I wasn’t sure how exactly this story would end.

China Miéville has his narrative down to perfection. And to add the cherry on top, I loved the writing style. It is flowery and (I think that goes without saying) vivid in detail but never, ever, boring. He switches perspectives frequently, showing us different sides of the same story, letting us enter the minds of several characters.

I understand why every single of his books is nominated for numerous awards and why people are so impressed with him. A word of caution is necessary, however, because I believe the style can very much be hit and miss. Before you buy this, read the first chapter to make sure you like it. If you do, you’re in for an epic adventure. China Miéville proves that fantasy does not have to be tropes and traditions only, that his imagination is endless and his skill phenomenal.

THE GOOD: If I start here, I’ll never stop. Characters, plot, style, monsters, world building…
THE BAD: It’s hard to find fault with this. If I have to pick something, I’d say the last third could have been shortened. Maybe.
THE VERDICT: An excellent book full of original ideas, great writing, and a well thought-out, fascinating city.

RATING: 9/10 Nearly perfect

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The Bas Lag Cycle:

  1. Perdido Street Station
  2. The Scar
  3. The Iron Council

6 thoughts on “Review: China Miéville – Perdido Street Station

  1. evad4you says:

    I would advise not to judge China Mieville by reading the first chapter. Almost all of his introductions are wordy, ambiguous, intimidating things – at least in the Bas Lag trio. Give it two or three chapters in, when his style settles down a bit.

    Perdido Street Station is absolutely stellar, regardless of whether you ever pursue the other novels!

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    • Nadine says:

      I thought there was a huge difference betweent he “prologue”, the part written in italics, and the proper first chapter. The actual first chapter when we meet Isaac and Lin gives a much better impression of the overall style. But yes, I suppose you can’t judge China Miéville by reading one chapter or even one book. I hear his other books are all quite different from each other.

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  2. Carl V. says:

    I’m going to have to bite the bullet and make myself read a Mieville book this next year. I first picked him up with Un Lun Dun and didn’t like the style of the book at all so ended up putting it aside. Next I went with The City & The City on audio which I was enjoying but then had to get back to the library and never bothered to check it out again. I suspect it is the one I’m most likely to enjoy, but as a friend sent me a copy of Kraken it may be the book I determine to just read from cover to cover and make a determination of him then. Right now I unfairly see him as overrated and a lot of my feelings about him are based on interviews I’ve read where I wasn’t fond of what he had to say. Time to actually finish a book and judge that book only. 🙂

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  3. kamo says:

    Told you you’d like it, eh? My first copy obviously had a problem at the printers, as about two-thirds of the way through it jumped back to page 200 and started from there again. I realise it was slightly experimental, but not that much. To make matters worse, I was on holiday at the time and had to wait two more weeks to get a proper copy and find out how it ended. ‘Not well’ I think is the simplest answer to that.

    Anyway, welcome to Mieville World. It’s a doozy. The Scar is, for my money, even better than PSS. Wait till you meet the mosquitoes, you lucky person you 🙂

    Carl – Kraken is just stupid fun, and as such might be the best introduction to his stuff if you’re not so keen on what you’ve seen in interviews. He can tend towards the political, to put it mildly. It’s there in spades in his other stuff, but pretty absent from Kraken.

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    • Nadine says:

      Haha, you knew all along this would be up my alley. 🙂
      I look forward to The Scar and most people recommend it as a Mieville starter novel. But I think I may take a trip into non Bas-Lag Mieville territory. Un Lun Dun is kind of smiling at me. But if his writing is consistent in quality, I have no doubt I’ll eventually read them all.

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