One of the most astonishing books I’ve ever read, with so much I loved, and a few things that I hated. The worldbuilding was incredible: women with beetles for heads, where the males of the species are just mindless bugs; monsters that steal memories and whose dung allows people to relive those memories; desert bird-people whose only crime is stealing another’s choice; a gigantic, powerful spider who collects scissors… I’m in awe of Miéville. He’s my new writing hero.
The characters, too, are fantastic: flawed, secretive, some optimistic and inspired, some grim and hopeless. New Crobuzon is a huge city, home to all sorts of people, khepri, monsters, and more. And every so often Miéville adds in a little detail of characterization that makes the characters startlingly relatable. Just little things, like feeling that the air has too many people breathing it, or being astonished that you may never see this cab driver again.
I’m not sure how many more of Miéville’s books I’ll read, though, because it just moved. so. slowly. It was great writing, but I didn’t necessarily want to read a little interlude about what the city looked like from above. I wanted things to move along. It took me weeks to read this book, because I’d read for half an hour and nothing would happen in the story. The writing was beautiful, the characterization was skillful, but the narrative itself didn’t compel me.
It wasn’t a very hopeful story, either. I appreciate books that acknowledge the truth that there is often a steep price to pay for doing the right thing. Perdido Street Station shows the terrible consequences of daring to speak up against a militant government, of trying to change society for the better. But there’s a difference between a story that’s gritty and honest, and a story that sinks into despair. The ending seemed to do the latter, to take away hope, and it left me feeling flat. Yagharek committed a horrific crime, but he had already been horrifically punished. Isaac’s decision to renege on his contract, to take away the possibility of ever flying again, seemed to me to be overstepping his bounds. Isaac judged him and found him not worthy. Truth is, though, none of us are worthy. We all need grace. To withhold grace and forgiveness from one another is to withhold it from ourselves, destroying hope. We can’t live like that.