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.

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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

Robin Hobb – Royal Assassin

This is one of my all-time favorite fantasy series but unlike with most trilogies, it was the middle book that I liked best. I figure this must be a Robin Hobb thing because it also happened with the second trilogy, The Liveship Traders. Or maybe I’m just weird and have a thing for volume two.

ROYAL ASSASSIN
by Robin Hobb

published: Voyager 1997 (1996)
ISBN:0006480101
pages: 752
copy: paperback
series: The Farseer Trilogy #2

my rating: 10/10

first sentence: Why is it forbidden to write down specific knowledge of the magics?

Young Fitz, the illegitimate son of the noble Prince Chivalry, is ignored by all royalty except the devious King Shrewd, who has had him tutored in the dark arts of the assassin. He has barely survived his first, soul-shattering mission, and returns to the court where he is thrown headfirst into the tumult of royal life. With the King near death, and Fitz’s only ally off on a seemingly hopeless quest, the throne itself is threatened. Meanwhile, the treacherous Red Ship Raiders have renewed their attacks on the Six Duchies, slaughtering the inhabitants of entire seaside towns. In this time of great peril, it soon becomes clear that the fate of the kingdom may rest in Fitz’s hands – and his role in its salvation may require the ultimate sacrifice.

The ending of Assassin’s Apprentice left me surprised, shocked, shaken, and wanting more. Robin Hobb did not spend all those pages in book one setting up characters for nothing. In this volume, we dive straight into action, not needing to find out who is who anymore. We know everybody and have formed some sort of opinion on their character. The author can thusly use every single one of these 752 pages to drive the plot forward, to have these characters develop and grow and to offer us, her readers, moments of heart-wrenching agony, of suspense and pleasure, of fear and horror.

You can say what you want about Hobb’s slow beginnings, she is a superb writer. What she does with language is outstanding and has never failed to draw me in – even in the really boring books. Fitz grows up a lot in this novel, not only because he hits a certain age but also because his duties – suddenly multiplied – demand it of him. There is a war going on and nobody in the entire kingdom is sure why. The Red Ship Raiders continue to “forge” people, kidnapping them, taking away their souls, and sending them back as lifeless husks who behave like zombies. Even without this threat from the outside, prince Regal and his ambition for the crown offer enough intrigue to fill an entire book. Fitz stays loyal to Verity and does what he can to help him stay alive so he can follow King Shrewd to the throne.
But Fitz is also a little preoccupied. A romance of his own has just started to bud and there is another creature in his life that demands attention and love. The cover of the new paperback edition may tip you off about the identity of said creature.

It is hard to put into words what I felt while reading this book. I had grown to love the characters (and hate some of them, too) in the first novel, so emotionally I wasn’t prepared to see them go through hell again. Fitz does get some precious moments of happiness but Robin Hobb wouldn’t be Robin Hobb if she didn’t end up putting her protagonist thorugh the worst kind of torture she could think of. And, masochist as that must sound, I really enjoy reading this. As Fitz is a first person narrator, I was never truly worried for his life but, trust me, there are enough other things you can worry about. And I got incredibly invested in the fae of this fictional cast of characters.

The Fool, Kettricken, Verity, Burrich, and even King Shrewd revealed new facets of their personalities and made the story just that much more interesting. It was like I grew with Fitz, learning to see the bigger picture and getting hints and ideas about what is really going on. This being the middle novel of a trilogy, hints is all we get and the book ends in quite a cliffhanger.

A ten out of ten rating is rare and this is the first book I am reviewing on this blog to deserve it. If you can write 752 pages of pure enjoyment and make me dream about the characters and hope that they’ll end up safe and sound, all while making me rave about how beautiful the language and writing style is, then you’ve truly deserved your ten points. Re-reads have not diminished my opinion of this book, merely strenghtened it. Even if you didn’t love Assassin’s Apprentice, give this one a try. If it doesn’t pull you into the Six Duchies, then Robin Hobb may just not be for you.

THE GOOD: Incredible characters, beautiful language, a kick-ass suspenseful plot and way more action than book one. Also, bonding with animals.
THE BAD: Uhm… you have to make it through book one first?
THE VERDICT: One of my favorite books of all genres with a great protagonist and an even more memorable and mysterious side character, the Fool.

RATING: 10/10 Perfection!

The Farseer Trilogy:

  1. Assassin’s Apprentice
  2. Royal Assassin
  3. Assassin’s Quest

Julian Barnes – The Sense of an Ending

Seine Auszeichnung mit dem Man Booker Prize 2011 hat dieses stille, dünne Buch ohne Frage verdient. Julian Barnes erzählt ruhig von trügerischen Erinnerungen und einer Vergangenheit, die einen auch im hohen Alter noch einholen kann.

Deutscher Titel: Vom Ende einer Geschichte
Erschienen: 2011
Seiten: 150 (192)
Übersetzt von: Gertraude Krueger
Erschienen bei: Jonathan Cape (Kiepenheuer & Witsch)

Meine Bewertung: 8/10

Erster Satz: I remember in no particular order:
– a shiny, inner wrist;
– steam rising from a wet sink as a hot frying pan is laughingly tossed in it;
– gouts of sperm circling a plughole, before being sluiced down the full length of a tall house;
– a river, rushing nonsensically upstream, its wave and wash lit by half a dozen chasing torchbeams;
– another river, broad and grey, the direction of its flow disguised by a stiff wind exciting the surface;
– bathwater long gone cold behind a locked door.
This isn’t something I actually saw, but what you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed.

So beginnt Julian Barnes die Geschichte von Tony Webster, der als älterer Mann auf sein Leben zurückblickt. Genauer gesagt beschäftigt er sich mit einer ganz speziellen Geschichte seines Lebens, die in der Schulzeit ihren Anfang hatte. Tony und seine beiden engsten Freunde nehmen den neuen Schüler Adrian Finn in ihren Kreis auf. Zusammen diskutieren sie über Gott und die Welt, lesen die großen Philosophen und versuchen sich mit cleveren Kommentaren und Gedanken darüber was Geschichte ist zu übertreffen und ihre Lehrer zu beeindrucken. Adrian sticht dabei als außergewöhnlich intelligent heraus. Man kann nie ganz sicher sein, ob seine Einwürfe ernst gemeint sind oder ob er sich über einen lustig macht.
Tonys Leben nimmt seinen Lauf, die Freunde verlieren sich aus den Augen und jeder geht seinen eigenen Weg. Bis der alte Tony einen Brief von einem Anwalt erhält, in dem ihn unerwartet eine Erbschaft trifft. Nun muss er sich wieder mit den Geschehnissen seiner Jugend auseinander setzen und merkt, dass die Erinnerung nicht immer so zuverlässig ist wie man denkt…

Obwohl nur 150 Seiten dünn, bewegt Julian Barnes’ Buch beim Lesen ungemein. Es ist vor allem seine Fähigkeit, Sprache lebendig werden zu lassen, für jede Szene, jeden Dialog, die perfekten Worte zu finden und diese zu einem musikalischen Werk zu verweben, die mich überzeugt hat. Barnes hätte genausogut eine langweilige Geschichte erzählen können – in diesem Stil hätte ich sie kein bisschen weniger genossen.
Zum Glück und zur Freude der Leser ist Tony Websters Kampf mit den Erinnerungen und der Wahrheit aber höchst spannend zu verfolgen. Kann man sich je sicher sein, dass man Geschehnisse richtig im Gedächntnis behält? Oder die richtigen Details? Oder trügt einen das eigene Gehirn um unangenehme Dinge zu vergessen oder durch völlig andere Erinnerungen zu ersetzen?

Ich möchte hier nichts mehr zum Plot sagen, nur dass dieser für so ein leises Buch sehr spannend wird. Das Ende hält eine Überraschung bereit, die mich – ebenso wie Tony selbst – schockiert hat. We just didn’t get it!
Die wenigen Charaktere führen ein Eigenleben und sind gleichermaßen sympathisch wie unsympathisch. Schwarz-Weiß ist in diesem Buch niemand und besonders Menschen wie Veronica schienen mir so real, dass mir spontan Menschen aus meinem Bekanntenkreis eingefallen sind. Tony ist als Ich-Erzähler gleich sympathisch, auch wenn er sich hauptsächlich durch seine Passivität auszeichnet und von großen Taten nur träumt.

Jeder, der schöne Sprache zu schätzen weiß und der ein kurzes, kurzweiliges Buch lesen möchte, dass zum Nachdenken anregt, sollte hier zugreifen. Jetzt gleich!

PRO: Ein sprachliches Meisterwerk, interessanter Plot, lebendige Charaktere und anregende Ideen.
CON: Zur deutschen Übersetzung kann ich (noch) nichts sagen. Hier könnte aber viel verloren gehen.
FAZIT: Absolut lesenswert, auch für Leser, die sonst vor (von Kritikern) hoch gelobten Werken zurückschrecken.

BEWERTUNG: 8/10