Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville

perdido-street-station-by-china-mievilleGenre: Fantasy
Publisher: Ballantine
Published: 2001
Reviewer Rating: fivestars
Book Review by Lalith Vipulananthan

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For a second novel, Perdido Street Station has garnered some impressive accolades–rave reviews in the mainstream press and the 2001 Arthur C. Clarke Award for science fiction. As a result of this acclaim, so many superlatives have been thrown at the novel that it is hard to describe its tour de force of imagination without sounding like a reiteration of a previous review. A friend summed it up succinctly:

Book. China Mieville. Epic grimy creature-filled steampunk fantasy/horror novel. Fabulous.

If this sounds good to you, read on….

Perdido Street Station has been labelled fantasy but it is one of those novels that stubbornly resists such simple categorization. Elements of science fiction and horror are blended together with the Gothic monstrosity of Gormenghast and the steam-driven technology of The Difference Engine to form a multi-layered, yet cohesive, whole.

Set in the metropolis of New Crobuzon, the opening reveals a melting pot of otherworldly races, magic, science, social unrest and corruption before veering off into darker territories, narrowly missing a collision with full-on B-movie horror. As the city becomes embroiled in a crisis that affects all of its inhabitants, the novel builds up to a climax that will change New Crobuzon forever.

Closer examination of the plot will reveal that it isn’t actually that outstanding. It twists, it turns, it thrills but it is fairly predictable and it is unoriginal. Fortunately this can be disregarded in the face of two points–the characters and, in particular, the intricate description of the city itself. New Crobuzon is realized in such grimy and vile detail that it becomes a living, breathing character, one so full of history and stories that Mieville is forced to leave much unsaid within the 880 pages of the novel. That is not to say that he doesn’t cram a lot in, but one senses that there is more waiting to be told within the land of Bas-Lag.

The only real criticism I can level at the book is that part of the finale is achieved with a deus ex machina. Although not quite on the same level as Peter F Hamilton’s appalling ending to the Night’s Dawn trilogy, it is every so slightly irritating that an author can spend so much time thinking through a plot and building up the story for 99% of a novel to then throw it all away by relying on a blatantly rubbish plot-device. I could whine some more but I won’t because it is only a minor glitch in a book that is packed with so much imagination and inventiveness that I was left feeling overwhelmed by the end and desperate for more.

In short, read this book.

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