Belarius's Reviews > Perdido Street Station

Perdido Street Station by China Miéville
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Feb 01, 08

bookshelves: fiction-finished, speculative-fiction, reviewed
Recommended for: Someone Who Wants Snow Crash + Neverwhere
Read in June, 2005

Perdido Street Station is not author China Miéville's first book, but it is his breakthrough into a wider readership. This is probably for the best: readers starting here will be quick to forgive the book's considerable flaws while they dive deep into the gritty, vibrant, and exotic city of New Crobuzon, where the story is set.

In New Crobuzon, magic and injustice are everywhere. A dark vision of what industrial revolution looks like in a magic-rich world, the city is ruled by fascist plutocrats who rule through fear (though they tolerate widespread organized crime). Race and class distinctions are overt and often grotesque (most notably in the case of the ReMade, indentured criminals whose bodies are magically reformed into monstrosities as punishment). It is against the backdrop that a handful of misfits must fight a sort of citywide psychic contagion driven by strange monsters.

The protagonist, Isaac, is a mercenary scientist (a renegade among academics). His lover, Lin, is a khepri (imagine a woman with an entire scarab beetle, legs and all, for a head) and an artist. He is approached by a garuda (bird-man) named Yagharek whose wings were cut off, and is asked to restore the garuda's ability to fly. His research (and other events in the city) draws him and his allies into a much wider conflict, with the safety of the city at stake.

The over-the-top qualities of this description are just a hint at the dizzying depth Miéville has managed to give his world. Informed by the author's strong political views (Miéville is a Marxist), the city has a thriving, angry culture that aims straight at issues much of speculative fiction prefers to avoid. Though Miéville clearly intends to use his fantastic world to comment on modern culture, he also includes vast swaths of material that are totally distinct from modern living, and pursues those hypothetical outrages with just as much enthusiasm. This gives the world a kind of candor and aura of plausibility that most authors aren't able to sustain, even as things get ridiculous.

With no exceptions, every person I know who has read Perdido Street Station was completely in love with the book for the first 2/3. In the third act, however, the story begins to lose pressure, and has almost completely deflated by the last page. Despite the brilliant opening act and strong midsection, Perdido falls flat at the end, which many readers will find difficult to accept.

There is hope however: the moment you finish Perdido Street Station, immediately begin reading The Scar, which is a better book by essentially every measure and will allow you to look back at the disappointment of Perdido Street Station as merely a weak third act in a six-act showcase of Miéville's amazing world.
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