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Aboard a vast seafaring vessel, a band of prisoners and slaves, their bodies remade into grotesque biological oddities, is being transported to the fledgling colony of Nova Esperium. But the journey is not theirs alone. They are joined by a handful of travelers, each with a reason for fleeing the city. Among them is Bellis Coldwine, a linguist whose services as an interpreter grant her passage—and escape from horrific punishment. For she is linked to Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, the brilliant renegade scientist who has unwittingly unleashed a nightmare upon New Crobuzon.

For Bellis, the plan is clear: live among the new frontiersmen of the colony until it is safe to return home. But when the ship is besieged by pirates on the Swollen Ocean, the senior officers are summarily executed. The surviving passengers are brought to Armada, a city constructed from the hulls of pirated ships, a floating, landless mass ruled by the bizarre duality called the Lovers. On Armada, everyone is given work, and even Remade live as equals to humans, Cactacae, and Cray. Yet no one may ever leave.

Lonely and embittered in her captivity, Bellis knows that to show dissent is a death sentence. Instead, she must furtively seek information about Armada’s agenda. The answer lies in the dark, amorphous shapes that float undetected miles below the waters—terrifying entities with a singular, chilling mission. . . .

578 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published March 1, 2000

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About the author

China Miéville

153 books13.8k followers
A British "fantastic fiction" writer. He is fond of describing his work as "weird fiction" (after early 20th century pulp and horror writers such as H. P. Lovecraft), and belongs to a loose group of writers sometimes called New Weird who consciously attempt to move fantasy away from commercial, genre clichés of Tolkien epigons. He is also active in left-wing politics as a member of the Socialist Workers Party. He has stood for the House of Commons for the Socialist Alliance, and published a book on Marxism and international law.

Excerpted from Wikipedia.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,978 reviews
Profile Image for Nataliya.
745 reviews11.9k followers
April 25, 2023
“In time, in time they tell me, I’ll not feel so bad. I don’t want time to heal me. There’s a reason I’m like this.
I want time to set me ugly and knotted with loss of you, marking me. I won’t smooth you away.
I can’t say good-bye.”

I first read The Scar a decade ago, new to the weird magic of Miéville’s writing, entranced by the bizarreness of his imagination and the love of thesaurus-heavy vocabulary. Something about this book pulled on just the right strings and made it my favorite novel by His Chinaness, a feat that eventually was surpassed only by Embassytown.

A decade later the magic still holds, even if with a bit less intensity. I still love Armada, the odd pirate floating city, and with the years understand some of the characters a bit more, even those whom I judged a bit more harshly in my younger days.

Scars. They are things of possibility. The pain and the healing, the past and the future, the memories and records of being broken and being made whole again. Scars make us who we are.

Still 5 stars.

2012: Say goodbye to the festering filth of New Crobuzon! Welcome to a floating pirate city chock-full of mysteries, lies, betrayals, photophobic haemophages, and merciless manipulation.

Now, where do I apply for its citizenship???

Before I say anything else in my review, I want to confess - I absolutely, wholeheartedly loved Armada. I loved its tolerance, its camaraderie, its stubbornness, its unbelievable spirit and tenacity. I loved the harmony, the creation of a whole out of so many varying bits, pieces, cultures, races, nations. I loved the respect for knowledge. I loved the concept of creating a habitable place in the midst of unwelcoming ocean. Basically, I embraced it with the same fierce loyalty that Tanner Sack did, and it pained me to see it threatened.
“A scar is not an injury, Tanner Sack. A scar is a healing. After an injury, a scar is what makes you whole.”
The titular Scar has many meanings, multilayered just like Miéville's prose and storytelling. We see the literal ones - on the faces of the Lovers and on the backs of Tanner and Bellis. We hear about the mythical one, a splitting wound in the fabric of reality. Scars become the symbols of fight, survival, love, unity, pain, remembrance, and healing. They can be seen in many ways, in the light of many endless possibilities.
"Like sutures. They stitch the past to me."

Don't be fooled by the designation of "New Crobuzon #2" for The Scar. The huge poisonous filthy city is a constant presence weighing on the minds of our ex-Crobuzoner characters, but we are spared its suffocating bulk and do not meet any of the familiar characters from Perdido Street Station.

Our link to New Crobuzon is Bellis Coldwine, a reserved and disillusioned linguist sailing away in the self-imposed exile to New Crobuzon colonies. On her ship, below decks, destined to be a slave, is Tanner Sack, a Remade - a victim of the cruel body-altering Crobuzonian system of punishment. Bellis is an exile hoping to return someday; Tanner is little more than worthless cargo. No wonder they react in polarly opposite ways when their ship is taken over by pirates and they find themselves new "press-ganged" citizens of a floating pirate city, a huge melting pot, which, like the Hotel California, you can never leave.
"That, after all, was what Armada was - a colony of the lost, the renegade, the absent-without-leave, the defeated."
For Tanner and other Remade it's a paradise to which you cannot help but be fiercely loyal. For Bellis, it's a place that dared to take her choice away from her, and she's not happy.
"And if it comes to weighing up your desire to return against the desires, for example, of the several hundred "Terpsichoria" Remade who are now allowed to live as something more than animals, then I'm afraid I find your need less than pressing."
Suddenly the newcomers find themselves drawn into an ambitious conspiracy that can bring greatness to Armada - that is, unless it brings its destruction first. And, as one can expect, when existing powers in search of even more power collide with the lives of regular people, it can bring little but brokenness, pain, and despair.

Miéville expands on the horror shown in Perdido Street Station - the terrible punishment that the Remade have to endure. For their crimes they are marked for life, horrifically modified, and permanently reduced to the miserable existence of 'freaks', nightmarish slaves. left with nothing, no chances, no possibilities. That's why I instantly loved Armada - for dispensing away with the cruelty, for accepting them and admitting what New Crobuzon denies - that they are who they are, with rights and possibilities, with chance for love and respect and life.
“She was Remade she was (Remade scum), he knew it, he saw it, and still he felt incessantly what was inside him, and he felt a great scab of habit and prejudice split from him, part from his skin where his homeland had inscribed him deep. [...] There was a caustic pain as he peeled off a clot of old life and exposed himself open and unsure to her, to new air. [...] His feelings welled out and bled together (their festering ceased) and they began to resolve, to heal in a new form, to scar.”

Characterization is Miéville's strong point in this book. With just few words and sentences he creates memorable and vivid characters that feel alive and real, ready to step out of the page. Our main viewpoint character Bellies Coldwine is amazingly written. She is an unusual female character - middle-aged, chain-smoking, cold and cynical, stubborn and strong-willed, in full control of her emotions, with walls of reserve surrounding her - and she is not waiting for anyone to take these walls down. She is smart and resilient; she is a survivor. Beautifully written, she is fully realized, relatable without being always likable, making you root for her while being angry at her at the same time - a lifelike love-hate relationship, ultimately culminating in understanding and respect. Likewise, the rest of the characters - Tanner, Uther Doul, Brucolac, Shekel, Carrianne - all have these lifelike multilayered personalities that cannot help but captivate the reader, which is a true testament to Miéville's writing skills.
"Everything has changed. I cannot be used anymore. Those days are over. I know too much. What I do now, I do for me."
Miéville's imagination remains truly amazing and boundless. I don't think there is anything that this man cannot conjure out of the depths of his prodigious mind. He takes the existing concepts - cities, piracy, monstrous sea creatures - and turns them onto their heads, brings along new and unexpected angles, creates unbelievable depths, and in the process reveals so much about human nature that it can be unsettling.


Amazing, beautifully written, multilayered book with excellent characters and masterfully crafted setting. 5 stars without any hesitation.

Thank you, Mr. Miéville, for this amazing read that kept me engrossed in your fantastic world for so many days. And special thanks to Catie for embarking on this awesome Miéville journey with me. It was great!
“In time, in time they tell me, I’ll not feel so bad. I don’t want time to heal me. There’s a reason I’m like this.
I want time to set me ugly and knotted with loss of you, marking me. I won’t smooth you away.
I can’t say good-bye.”
Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,425 reviews3,395 followers
September 16, 2022
The Scar is a novel created by the imagination that was set free right out of the bedlam in the outer space.
A mile below the lowest cloud, rock breaches water and the sea begins.
It has been given many names. Each inlet and bay and stream has been classified as if it were discrete. But it is one thing, where borders are absurd. It fills the spaces between stones and sand, curling around coastlines and filling trenches between the continents.

Vast oceans and incredible seascapes… Miscellany of intellects… Enigma of the deep… The Scar is a nautical novel sculpted in the cosmic scale…
The underside of Armada was crisscrossed with life.
Fish eddied through its architecture. Fleeting newtlike figures moved with intellect and purpose between boltholes. There were wire mesh cages tucked into hollows and dangling from chains, crowded with fat cod and tunny. Cray dwellings like coral tumors.
Beyond the edges of the city, and below it at the far reaches of light, huge half-tame seawyrms corkscrewed and fed. Submersibles droned-rigid shadows. A dolphin made constant vigilant rounds. A moving ecology and politics were tethered to the city’s calcified base.
The sea around it resonated with noise made physical: staccato clicks and the vibrations of pounding metal, the swallowed sound of watery friction as currents rubbed against each other. Barks that dissipated when they reached the air.

The huge floating city of pirates drifts straight through the great unknown of the Hidden Ocean to its improbable destination. Will Armada achieve its mysterious goal?
What is impossible on the planet Earth is possible in the distant worlds…
Profile Image for Crystal.
46 reviews14 followers
June 6, 2008
It took me two days to get through the last 50 pages of China Miéville's The Scar. Not because I was bored, or because the story was particularly impenetrable, but simply because I did not want the book to be over.

I did finish it, however. And for a good ten minutes after the last sentence I found myself staring into space, stunned and cut adrift and wishing for another 50 pages. When I eventually sat down to begin this review, I realized that I had no idea what made the book so amazing.

And that's Miéville's magic. His prose is chaotic and distinctly purple. His characters are often under drawn, brought into the story for a few brief moments before being sacrificed under the wheels of the frenetic plot. And yet he rarely introduces anyone who isn't instantly fascinating, and all of the deaths seem to mean something. Somehow, he always seems to make it work.

I'm getting ahead of myself.

The Scar isn't a sequel to Perdido Street Station, although it takes place in the same world and Miéville includes enough winks to Perdido to keep us nerds happy. The story follows a handful of New Crobuzon refugees and criminals who, after their ship is commandeered by pirates, find themselves press-ganged into a new life in the strange city of Armada. The story is primarily told by Tanner Sack, a criminal and slave who has been offered redemption in a new home; and Bellis Coldwine, a fugitive translator who always seems to find herself near the center of Armada's varied and bloody intrigues.

Bellis is an interesting character. She's presented from the beginning as cold and unemotional, an image she seems to put a lot of work into cultivating. Of course, we find that she's not so cold as she seems, but we're still mostly spared from the angst and self-deceit seen in so many "heroes" of fantasy. We're also told almost nothing about her background, and certainly nothing that doesn't pertain directly to the story at hand. She's nearly a cipher at first glance- an impression helped by the book's emphasis on her profession as a translator- but as the story moves she becomes incredibly compelling.

And if Miéville gives us so little on the protagonist, the supporting cast is even less detailed. The characters are drawn in broad, impressionist strokes that do more through implication and imagery than lesser writers do with chapters of backstory and description. Every character serves a purpose, and you can generally count on anyone who is introduced by name having an important role to play somewhere down the line.

The plot, for all its complications, is tight and quickly paced. As the press-ganged find themselves wrapped in layer upon layer of conspiracy and betrayal, the reader finds themselves handed threads of plot at almost dizzying speed. But just as Miéville only describes his monsters in bits and incomprehensible pieces, he keeps the reader just informed enough to be unable to see the big picture. When he finally does sideswipe us with a revelation, it always makes perfect sense.

The economy of plot and characterization give Miéville room to do what really makes his stories special. His world is a mishmash of genres often described as "science fantasy" or, in his own words, "weird fiction". Steampunk airships coexist with elemental magic and Lovecraftian monsters. There are pirates and spies and scientists and wizards, and an impressive variety of original races and settings.

Miéville describes all of his creations with obvious glee, occasionally losing control of grammar in his enthusiasm. He makes up for these missteps with his seemingly limitless imagination and energy- the reader hardly has time to be upset about a misplaced comma when pivotal moments and incredible inventions are flying past them on every page.

And yet, the world of Bas-Lag is a hard one. There doesn't seem to be any such thing as an innocent man, and ordinary citizens are constantly finding themselves caught up in the machinations of ruthless leaders and unfathomable powers. Much like any good fantasy, The Scar is less about Miéville's lunatic world and more about the way people struggle and adapt and somehow survive. His honesty about the human condition lends a very real edge to the story- it would be hard to accuse him of shying away from difficult topics or showing his readers (or his characters) any undue kindness.

All of the things that make The Scar interesting are things that could cause other books to fail entirely. The fact that Miéville has managed to put them together into such an incredibly good read makes him one of the most exciting writers I've come across in a long time, and a refreshing addition to the genre. Whichever genre it is.
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,868 reviews16.5k followers
July 17, 2019
After reading Kraken, and The City and the City and after Perdido Street Station, it occurred to me that China Mieville was certainly one of our most imaginative and talented new writers and that he was on a short list of authors who were dramatically making new ground in new fantasy. But after reading each, I also decided, knew in fact, that he could do better, that his masterpiece was yet to be written, that as great a talent had been displayed, more, so much more could be expected.

The Scar may very well be that masterpiece.

Taking the setting, Bas-Lag, of his earlier novel Perdido Street Station, building on that world that Mieville created, and moving in a different direction, but keeping the wildly fantastic tone and character of the narrative, The Scar is not really a sequel. There are references to the earlier plot and many remembrances of New Crobuzon, but The Scar has its own story.

This is the story of a pirate city. There is a very interesting plot, and many memorable and colorful characters, some fun twists and a unique steam punk setting flowing from the world building of the earlier Perdido Street Station, some political and social metaphors and a socialist sub-text, but make no mistake, what fills the sails of this very enjoyable book is Armada, a floating amalgam of pirated vessels. Add some steampunk elements to Gore Verbinsky’s vision of the Pirates of the Caribbean films and this provides a sustainable glimpse of the book’s remarkable setting.

Also noteworthy is Mieville’s relationship, as a writer of the “New Weird” to that literary ancestry. As a scholarly descendant and heir to H.P. Lovecraft the nautical tale, with cryptic references to otherworldly denizens of the deep, is an atavistic link to Cthulu and to a storied past. Mieville’s Avanc, an extra-dimensional monster from the deep lends a further mystery legend to fuel this fictional history.

The Scar also demonstrates again China Mieville as an urban writer. In every other book by Mieville, he takes the reader on a guided tour along the back alleys and cozy café’s of the city he has put together. Armada, though afloat, still captures the author’s ability to make us feel a citizen of this unique municipality. Akin to his virtuosity as a writer of urban settings, is his adept ability to create and maintain complex characterizations and purposeful dynamic relationships. As much as I am against series, I like what Mieville has done, this is a series about Bas-Lag, the world he has built and within the context of which, any number of stories can be told.

Finally, as a political activist, Mieville has left us with a sub-text of political underpinnings. Mieville is a proponent of left wing political ideology and Armada, a free-floating, egalitarian-libertarian pirate city full of press-ganged but loyal citizens is a fitting palette for his dogmatic brush.

Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,977 followers
February 8, 2017
So. I have a question for you.

When's the last time you watched vampires go fishing?


Then where the f***ing hell have you been? Seriously!

Okay, so the effort involved is a bit more than even the undead can muster, and a fleet, or no, actually, a whole *nation* of boats has a hard time with this fish story.

Of course, Miéville finally gets to show us how he deals with an epic war scene, interesting treatments of betrayal, kidnapping, Stockholm Syndrome, and extended spycraft, but what's really interesting is how deep the details go.

Don't read this if you're skimming or intend to skim. There's just too many deep and awesome tidbits that fly by if you're not careful. I mean, I've been extremely curious about how all these different races came together in the first place, or at least how humans arrived or emerged on this world, and YES, there are a couple of fly-by-night anecdotes that tell us that this IS, Indeed, SF. Damn awesome reality bending SF, too, with enough hints to stuff a goose or at least one of the more interesting inhabitants of New Crobuzon. (And don't worry, at least ONE of the races will come along and clean up the mess.)

I actually really loved all the sequences that filled out my slowly budding knowledge of the Bas-Lag universe, like what's involved in being Remade or the more esoteric races that cannibalize and twist the dominate technology of the world. Having airships and submarines is just icing on the cake, of course, but I think I might have been most thrilled by the continuing focus on scholarship and study. Who wants a real action hero, anyway? If we're going to get into the New Weird, then let's at least have the right characters available to make the fractal flower bloom, right?

Best parts include the changing perception of the Armada, from unfortunate press-gangers to a free and awesome society of truly epic minds and goals. Just like the first book in the series, Perdido Street Station, the city is a deep and revolving character in it's own right, changing, at least in its inhabitant's perceptions, into something complex and multi-layered and and not only flawed, but almost heroic.

Of course, when messing with a sea monster with all your might, it's not hard to be perceived as heroic, even if it is their own damn fault. :)

This is truly a classic and creative tale, and I can never do it real justice in a single stupid review. The novel is as rich in detail as it is in awesome description, interesting characters, and great payoffs. Just don't enter into a read with anything other than your full attention, or you'll be missing out on a ton of great easter eggs.

(I know. I had to start it again because I misapprehended the scope and creativity of the author. Hell. I should have known better. I've read a ton of his other novels. BUT. The Bas-Lag series is truly serious in its creativity, so READER BEWARE.)

Profile Image for Traveller.
228 reviews715 followers
January 16, 2015
It's hard to avoid politics, and in particular, Mièville's politics when it comes to Bas-lag. In Mièville's Marxist oriented doctoral thesis, Between Equal Rights: A Marxist Theory of International Law, he argues that international law is fundamentally constituted by the violence of imperialism, which by implication, is driven to a large extent by capitalism.

It's not too hard to work out that New Crobuzon is the theoretical capitalist "bad guy" of Bas-lag with its secret police and under-handed politics, its economic avarice and totalitarian leanings. And yet, its antagonist in the plot of the novel, The Scar's floating city community of ships-made-into-a city, Armada, are thieving, murderous pirates who forcefully take their future citizens by violence, and brainwash them into submission, or else simply kill them. They're not good guys either by any measure in my book. The reason why Armada is supposedly a 'good' community, is because they set erstwhile prisoners 'free' (not really free if they're not allowed to leave, are they?) to become good non-law-abiding pirates who kill and pillage.

So once again, Mièville presents us with a complex, politically grey, ambiguous scenario.

I agree that totalitarianism (as represented by New Crobuzon) is undesirable, but I'm not so sure that imperialism always is 100% bad (The Chinese and Roman empires brought a lot of benefits to its citizens, for instance - most of the time, that is, when the rulers weren't going crazy), and I'm known to be pretty much anti-anarchist, depending on what your definitions are. (In other words, I believe in having at least some universally agreed-upon laws being in place which human societies need to follow and orient themselves by; and it is important that whatever the law is, that it not be enforced on an arbitrary basis. ) The Scar forces one to ponder on these aspects when you get acquainted with how Armada is run, and I reckon this is a good thing.

In any case, I don't see New Crobuzon as being any the more imperialist or less violent than Armada is--in fact the latter seems more so to me. At least the citizens of New Crobuzon are free to leave the place if they don't want to live there anymore...

I think my dislike for these aspects of Armada, is part of the reason (there are others such as a feeling of sloppiness in the plotting and general writing) that puts The Scar lower down on my scale of favorite Mièville novels. Perhaps a certain coarseness in how the uncouth aspects of the world was presented, also played a role.

Granted, Bellis Coldwine, the main character, seems to agree with my feelings regarding Armada; so perhaps I should actually be giving Mièville extra points for embracing ambiguity and avoiding a black-and-white scenario. After all, life is as he describes it - he makes no attempt to present any whitewashed utopias, as far as I can see.

One thing that Mièville and I probably can agree on, is that when naked greed gets to run its course unchecked, social injustices mount up. ...and this is so whether there is a communist or a capitalist regime at the helm.

Back to The Scar, I really enjoyed all the surprises and twisting towards the end, and that the actual 'solution' was a lot more political and pragmatic than one tended to believe earlier on in the novel. The twists and surprises alone pushed me to give the book an additional star.

I think that Mièville again tried to pack in too many weird creatures and small disconnected bits of world exposition, much as he did with Perdido Street Station, but it does make for a richer world than, for instance his much more tightly controlled The City & The City, which is a quite good novel by detective genre standards.

He did lose marks for the mosquito women's unnecessary bits of anatomy, which made even less sense than the cactus women's. Maybe breasts are Mièville's way to distinguish between the sexes; and yet, he seems remarkably non-sexist when it comes to most of his female characters, including Bellis Coldwine, the main character in The Scar.

Oh! There's so much going on in this novel, that I almost forgot about how Mieville plays around with quantum physics and metaphysics with his "possibility leaks". I really enjoyed that aspect.

I liked it. I thought Tanner and Bellis and Shekel and Johannes and Silas and Uther and The Lovers and Brucolac were all believably portrayed, and in spite of Bellis being portrayed as an emotionally "cold" person, one gets to see enough of why she is like this, and enough to gain empathy with her need to protect herself by endeavoring to remain as detached as possible.

In spite of the fact that the novel lags and wanders about rather aimlessly in places around the middle, as with the first book in the series, Perdido Street Station, it is worth hanging on for the roller-coaster ride towards the end, so I added a star here and subtracted a star there, and came up with three and a half stars for The Scar, a novel with distinct strengths and weaknesses.


For an extra bit of spice which might be appreciated by those who have read quite a bit of Mièville, read on. If you don't have a sense of humor, don't read on.

Ladies and gentlemen, there is a first time for everything, they say, even for writing erotica into a review. Especially if it is sado-masochistic erotica. Well, see, China Mièville put me up to it while I was reading his novel The Scar.
I was reading this passage in The Scar, you see, of sado-masochistic passion between two lovers, (part of the exploration on the theme of scarring, btw) and slowly an image began to form in my mind, of me somehow managing to find myself in a room, with a naked China Mièville, who was clad only in a slave-collar, the chain of which I was holding. I had a whip in my other hand.

There was a pole in the middle of the room, and I bade China to face this pole, his back to me. “Look at the pole, China!” I said as I raised my whip.
“I want you to understand something, China!” I snapped curtly, tickling his flank with the end of the whip. "And that is how I feel about the word ‘puissant’”.

I flicked my whip with puissance, and then brought it home puissantly.
*WHACK!* “OW!” China jumped a little. “Good! I see the message is getting through to you. That one was for all the puissants. And this one...” *WHACK!* is for all the puissance. "

China did not cry out this time, though he did flinch. Two pink marks striped his muscled glutes.

"You also deserve a smack for all the sloppiness, and for the flopping about between tenses. I mean, really, where were you when the grammar class did tenses? ..but as usual, you're doing your own thing again, making up the rules as you go along...
Since it should be your editor getting the whack for a lot of this, I'll just give you a little smack, with much less puissance than previously. " *Smack*

“...I’m not done yet, China, I happen to have read quite a few of your creations. Remember ‘palimpsest?’(Though admittedly your love for the word is less obvious, though obvious enough, than for 'puissance'). Well, I’m going to make a little pink palimpsest here on your beautiful behind."

I could see China’s body tighten and I imagined him inwardly steeling himself. Petty cruelty got the better of me and I smirked. “Do I sense a certain recognition, Dr Mièville?

“ ...and just to make the palimpsest complete, here is one for all the drooling in The Scar specifically. ( *whackety*) Now, have I left anything out?”

I tapped my high-heeled leather boot impatiently, masking my pleasure at finally getting my revenge in regard to the niggles and especially the puissance, wondering inadvertently if I myself was not perhaps drooling by this point.

China turned to face me, a ghost of a smile on his sexy lips, a twinkle in his eye. “ Wipe that smile off your gibbet!” I roared, whacking him one on the arm for good measure. "And, by the way, that last whack was because the mosquito women have breasts. Mosquitoes lay eggs--what the Jabber would mosquitoes need breasts for?"

At that, he grabbed hold of the whip and twisted it easily out of my hand. “You know what you need?” he asked, grinning openly. “A good lesson in creative writing.”

Of course, the rest of the fantasy is censored for the benefit of the large warrior woman, so we'll talk a bit more about The Scar after the cold shower break.

*Takes a cold shower*

**Disclaimer: The S&M "erotic" scene in this review bears no implication whatsoever as to the orientations or inclinations of either the author of this review or of the author of the novel under review; it is meant to be humorous, and has no bearing on reality whatsoever.

Profile Image for Karl.
3,258 reviews264 followers
October 22, 2018
China Miéville’s “The Scar” is set on the vast floating pirate city of ‘Armada’, among mosquito-people, walking cacti, criminals punished by being surgically ‘Remade,’ and a fine cast of monsters, from the murderous “Grindylow”, to the incomprehensible “Avanc”.

“The Scar” is book 2 in the series known as “New Crobuzon” which is is a fictional city-state created by Mr. Miéville and is located in his fictional world of ‘Bas-Lag’. It is prominently featured in both his “Perdido Street Station” (book 1), and “Iron Council” (Book 3).

The heroine in “The Scar” is Bellis Coldwine, a woman who is fleeing 'New Crobuzon' aboard a ship bound for a distant colony. Her ship is attacked by pirates and subsumed into a vast flotilla, a floating city named Armada. It is governed by the Lovers, a couple who cut symmetrical patterns into each other's faces to show their devotion. They have conceived a dangerous plan which is to find a crack in the world, ‘the Scar’ of the novel's title, which is supposedly a source of unimaginable power.

We are given an intriguing plot of espionage and deceit. In her capacity as city librarian and then interpreter, Bellis is hard-edged and self-protective. Her initially lack of self-confidence in relationships with other characters become complicated by sex and betrayal.

Panoramic and stunningly inventive, “The Scar” is astonishing in the vastness of outer space books to read. While first published in 2002, I wonder why this book was not given a greater attention. Perhaps due to its daunting size, at six hundred pages, perhaps some readers were put off by the challenge of the reading.
Profile Image for Whitaker.
294 reviews502 followers
January 17, 2013
I bow my head in acknowledgement of Miéville's inventiveness. Who else but the Master of Weird would have thought up of anophelii, mosquito men and women? Or of crays, people with the head and torso of a man and the lower half of a crayfish? Or of Armada, a huge floating city made up of boats and ships all tied together? To me, however, it was all just a lot of flashy window dressing. This is all well and good. Clearly there are a lot of people who enjoy that and who find it interesting. I was not one of those; it did not captivate me.

For me, it was a struggle to make it to the end of the novel. Part of that was the hero's character. The aptly-named Beliss Coldwine is misanthropic, coldly contemptuous, and constantly angry, with a sneering judgement for everything and everyone. It was not fun spending so much time in her company.

Part of it was the writing. This is the first line of the first chapter:
It is only ten miles beyond the city that the river loses its momentum, drooling into the brackish estuary that feeds Iron Bay.
That's pretty good: "drooling" is unexpected and accurately evocative. Then two chapters later, we get:
…a huge minaret of girders soared and drooled fire…
Not so good. And later:
One heads southwest for the shallow water, for Iron Bay and Tarmuth and the drooling dilute salt of the Gross Tar estuary…
Even less meaningful. Here's all the metaphoric uses of "drool" I came across:
A constant drool of trash fouled the water and was swallowed by it.

She walked with him … out between buildings in the drooling rain…

Water began to drool through the holes and over the opened-up skin…

The cactus-man came back, fifteen minutes later, carrying three fat leather waterskins full of brine, that Tanner drooled over himself, and sluiced through his gills.

…skin drooling brine on the matting…

He locks the box, and then drools more of the tallow all over its seam.

The mast was melting… its substance oozing over itself as it spat and drooled downwards…

…I remember every layer, like colours of sand drooled into a bottle…
WTF, dude? You were so pleased with finding that metaphor that you decided you couldn't be bothered to think of others? That's what the writing felt like to me.

Still, I will tip my hat to Miéville for doing what I think he is doing here: writing an anti-epic. As a concept that's pretty cool, and thus, it's all the more a pity that the work itself did not appeal more to me.
Profile Image for Scott.
291 reviews303 followers
September 30, 2017
Wow. Clear an evening, take a day off, do whatever you need to do to carve out some serious reading time because the The Scar is good. Very, very good.

This is the sort of book you put down for a second just to exclaim aloud how good it is, the sort you push on friends and family with evangelical fervor. I stayed up late with this one, suffering in a fug of fatigue at work the next day, yet hanging out for when I could crack the covers and read into the wee hours all over again.

If you've read any Mieville you know just how engrossing he can be. I rate Embassytown as one of the most inventive SF works I've read, and The Scar is on the same level - a wild riot of amazing, completely engrossing ideas.

The Scar centers around Bellis Coldwine, a linguist who has been forced to flee the great city of New Crobuzon after the events described in Perdido Street Station. Enroute to exile she finds herself abducted and effectively imprisoned in the floating city of Armada- a collection of hundreds of ships, all lashed together and made into a mobile, piratical metropolis atop the ocean. From here she is drawn into machinations that could make Armada a serious world power, and into the dangerous and supernatural factions that compete for power in the floating city.

I don't want to give too much away so won't elaborate much more about the plot, but suffice to say this book is an absolute frenzy of awesome ideas and I was continually gobsmacked at the breadth and depth of China Mieville's imagination. Every element of the story, from the vast floating pirate city of Armada, to the unique creatures of Bas-Lag (lobster/human hybrid 'crays' for example), to the steampunk techno-magick that drives Mieville's world is seamlessly slotted into a vast and detailed story that I did not want to leave.

As someone who has mild aspirations to write Mieville's talent is both awe inspiring and appalling - how did he get so good? What does the man have in his head to create beautiful, intricate worlds like Bas-Lag and Embassytown? Which daemonic entity did he bargain with in order to write like he does?

This is Fantasy of another level- as far above your average swords and elves saga as the airship that flies above Mieville's floating city. This is fantasy so good, that in all my hours with it I didn't once feel like I was reading fantasy.
Profile Image for David Sven.
288 reviews445 followers
July 26, 2014
The Scar is Mieville's second book set in his Bas-Lag universe. It's a completely different story to, and as standalone as, the first book, Perdido Street Station.

This book the setting moves from the dank and dirty industrial city state of New Crobuzon featured in the first book, to Armada - a floating pirate city, full of...pirates. A city comprised of a conglomerate of derelict ships chained and roped together and re-purposed into a city both like and unlike any other.

We see some of the same races we were introduced to in PSS, like the Cactacae, and the Khepri, and of course we have the Remade.

We are also introduced to new races and creatures as Mieville's wonderful imagination continues to offer up delights of the weird and bizarre - like the Cray, half human half lobster who live in underwater cities. They like to employ hunting squid much like hunting falcons. And the Scabmettlers - fighters whose blood congeals instantly on contact with air to form a grissly type of armour. And my personal favourite, the Anophelli - mosquito people where the male population are vegetarian and the female population are insane with blood lust and will suck dry anything with blood in it that has the misfortune to cross their path.

Gazing hungrily, the mosquito-woman stretches her mouth open, spewing slaver, lips peeled back from toothless gums. She retches, and with a shocking motion a jag snaps from her mouth. A spit-wet proboscis, jutting a foot from her lips.

And there are a lot more monstrosities and curios in the offering.


The story follow Bellis Coldwine, escaping New Crobuzon in the aftermath of the events in Perdido Street Station. The militia have been hunting down anyone with any association to Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin and Bellis having some obscure connection to him decides it's time to run and embarks on a journey that sees her arrive at Armada - a city engaged in a secret project attempting to harness transdimensional forces that are probably best left alone. Bellis soon finds herself embroiled in intrigue and conspiracy.

Arguably, the most interesting character for me would be Uther Doul, the mercenary enforcer of Armada with his puissant "Possible Sword."

"If the clockwork is running, my arm and the sword mine possibilities. For every factual attack there are a thousand possibilities, nigh-sword ghosts, and all of them strike down together."

I would probably have enjoyed this book more if I had read it before Perdido Street Station (which remains my Mieville favourite so far). Most of the cool concepts of Bas-Lag were introduced and explored in that first book and reading this book I felt like the novelty had worn off. Mieville's writes slowly and ponderously, which worked last book as we are immersed in the steampunk world of New Crobuzon before the story evolves into a horror story where the suspense slowly builds. This book, the writing style doesn't change, but as cool as Armada is, I felt it was a let down from New Crobuzon and the story had nowhere near the same sense of peril and suspense - though it does have its moments. It just lacked the same punch, as if Mieville put all his weight into the first swing which took me off guard and then follows through this book with the backswing where the element of surprise is well and truly over. It meant that Mieville's writing felt tedious at times, relying more on a plot which I felt moved along too slowly to be enjoyable on its own.

Still, many reviewers think this is better than the first book so I guess it's a matter of taste. Both books add real character to the cities they portray, fleshing out in detail the various suburbs with their individual personalities. But for me, just like Bellis Coldwine, I wanted to go back to the dirty streets New Crobuzon - Armada just couldn't compete.

I'm giving this....

3.5 Stars

PS: I couldn't resist using "puissant" in my review seeing that it appears to be Mieville's favourite word this book. I had to use the kindle dictionary every time it popped up.

PSS: For those too lazy to look up puissant - it's French for "piss ant."

My review of Perdido Street Station

Profile Image for Stephen.
1,516 reviews11k followers
April 3, 2010
6.0 stars. On my list of "All Time Favorite" Novels. This is the second China Miéville novel I have read (the other being Perdido Street Station) and both that book and this one are on my all time favorite novel list. This should tell you a lot about how much I think of the authors writing and story-telling ability. In short, he is as good as it gets. The world of "Bas-lag" created by Mieville, of which New Crobuzon is its most famous city, is in my opinion as imaginative and richly detailed a world as I have ever read about. I think of other amazing worlds (or universes) like the one created by Frank Herbert in his Dune series, Jack Vance in his Dying Earth series and Tolkien's Middle Earth and I think that the Mieville's world is certainly on par with those other mighty creations. This is about the highest praise I can think to bestow as those other works have few peers in the realm of world building. HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION!!!

Winner: British Fantasy Award for Best Novel
Winner: Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel
Nominee: Hugo Award for Best Novel
Nominee: British Science Fiction Award for Best Novel
Nominee: Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Novel
Nominee: Philip K. Dick Award For Best Novel
Nominee: World Fantasy Award for Best Novel
Profile Image for Cecily.
1,119 reviews3,977 followers
March 17, 2013
** Update: Since reading this, I have read "The City and The City", which I thought was MUCH better (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...) and then "Embassytown", which was fantastic (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...). This review stands as my reaction to reading it, though I now think it probably does Mieville an injustice. **

A very hard book to rate because it is so inconsistent in plot, pace, language and even genre. It could possibly be turned into a good book, but it needs a lot of work to achieve that. On the evidence of this book, I can only conclude that Mieville is not a very good writer.

The weird fantasy cum steampunk story concerns a floating pirate city (made up of stolen vessels lashed together) and particularly three characters kidnapped on their way to settle a new land: a 15 year cabin boy, a remade slave and a translator needing to start a new life. Once in the city, there are power struggles between rulers, particularly over a grand, vague and probably dangerous plan to harness unknown powers emanating from a rift in the planet (the eponymous “scar”).

It opens with a commentary about sea creatures and landscapes that could be lifted from the Discovery Channel – until mention of a he-cray with a hunting squid. But that’s OK because Meiville is quirky.

Very little happens in the first third of the book, but it’s saved by some wonderfully vivid descriptions of extraordinary lifeforms and the architecture of the floating city (tree silhouettes “wetly inked onto the clouds”; “the deck’s periscopic cowls crooned like dolorous flutes”; a man “crippled with the understanding of his own inadequacy”; a vampire’s moonship being “opulent and unwelcoming” and “urgent” bonhomie from dockside pubs). There are even some funny things (bureaucratic pirates) even though it isn’t a funny book.

But as the plot picks up, the structure and language fall apart: minor niggles from earlier become more pronounced and new problems arise. However, I'm putting the examples in spoiler tags because although I want to keep them for my own reference, I've since revised my opinion of Mieville:
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,559 reviews8,692 followers
January 19, 2016
“For every action, there's an infinity of outcomes."


"Countless trillions are possible, many milliards are likely, millions might be considered probable, several occur as possibilities to us as observers - and one comes true.”

- China Miéville, 'The Scar'

At some point there was an infinite number of possibilitites with this novel, the funky follow-up to Perdido Street Station and book 2 in the Bas-Lag/New Crobuzon trilogy. There are chapters and lines and threads of this novel that contained amazing prose, brilliant ideas, funky characters, compelling themes, etc. I loved the motifs and themes China used: possibilities, scars, home, books, politics, community, etc. But there were also just too damn many pages. It could have been edited better. I'm not shy about books over 500 pages, but I don't want to read a 600+ page novel that really is just a fat 400 page novel.

Also, someone (a puissant editor, perhaps?) should have told China to stop using the word puissant (or its variants) and gout (gouts of water, gouts of blood, gouts of pleasure, gouts of relief, gouts of binding energy, gouts of smoke, gouts everywhere; enough gouts to form a trip or a tribe). Unless you are Cormac McCarthy (and there is only one CM) you need to be VERY careful when dropping the word gout casually in a novel. A reader who is paying attention is going to allow a word like gout or puissant to pop up just a few times in a novel that is 600 pages. Once you start dropping it in almost every chapter it practically begs the reader to start snickering or slap their forehead.

Finally, Miéville seemed unembarrassed by his use of steampunk cliches. He seemed to drag every single New Weird/Steampunk cliche into the light and wave it like an ensign. Obnoxious. But still I liked the novel. Hell, there were hours at a time when I REALLY enjoyed it. I devoted a few days to reading it. I loved its potential, and my review is just me letting off some steam (ba dum tss) about it not living up to what I hoped. I will, eventually, read his other books. I just don't feel compelled to read Iron Council tomorrow.

So, I was hoping for another: Perdido Street Station - 5 stars
And I didn't think it was equal to: Embassytown or The City & the City - 4 stars.
For me, I felt the same let down after reading Kraken - 4 stars (but maybe 3).

But hell, the guy still has managed to turn out better SF than most. Miéville's bottom stuff (that I've read) is way more compelling than a lot of the genre stuff out there. It was infinitely better than Cherie Priest's Boneshaker. Seriously, I had to bell, book and candle that piece of steampunk shit. Only time healed those stupid steampunk wounds and I still have the scars.
Profile Image for Brad.
Author 2 books1,691 followers
April 1, 2009
I restarted The Scar last night because I needed a dose of Mieville's prose, and was blown away, as I always am, by Mieville's description of place. This time he is describing Bas-Lag's oceans. He captures flavours and temperatures and underwater sounds and the danger inherent in the waters that have no boundaries in a way that is poetry for me. I have heard from other readers that these disconnected, deep descriptions are difficult beginnings for them, that they make it tough to connect early with Mieville's world, and I suppose I can understand that, but the pure beauty of the prose is the sort of thing I could read just for itself. Pull it out of the story, make it a fragment, and I would savour it like a tasty meal I was eating for the first time.

On the story level, the opening of The Scar is both an important introduction to the story where so much will happen on Bas-Lag's oceans and an instant tug away from New Crobuzon, the steaming Metropolis at the heart of Perdido Street Station. It offers a hint of a vaster, less crowded, but no less dangerous place wherein he-cray hunt with their squid and danger rises from the deep to slaughter hunter-gatherers indiscriminately. It's a reversal of the horror of the Slake Moths from Perdido Street where death fell from the sky, and I imagine it was an intentional reversal.

Just the opening is good enough for me to give The Scar five stars. And I am nowhere near Armada yet.
Profile Image for Rachel (TheShadesofOrange).
2,093 reviews2,957 followers
April 20, 2023
3.5 Stars
This was a dense, atmospheric fantasy story. It's a companion novel to Perdido Street Station and I'd recommend reading them in order not to spoil certain aspects of the worldbuilding. I liked this one but I'll admit that some sections held my attention more than others. This book is long and the author has a robust writing style which gets a but exhausting in places. I'd recommend this one to readers looking for an atmospheric sea faring narrative.
Profile Image for Apatt.
507 reviews781 followers
April 1, 2016
By gods and Jabber! This is one pugnacious thaumaturgical book! (sorry, bad in-joke).

China Miéville an interesting and awe-inspiring author, he writes like an angel but looks like a football hooligan! This is the second of the New Crobuzon series. Why it is not called The Bas-Lag series I have no idea, all of the Scar is set outside the great sprawling city of New Crobuzon, though it is frequently referred to.

As with the amazing Perdido Street Station this book is full of interesting characters and peculiar creatures (some of whom are pulling double duties as interesting characters also) full of magic (thaumaturgy, natch!). Miéville is a master of world building, plots, prose and characterization. The floating city of Armada is an amazing and vivid creation, a crazy yet believable place. The main protagonist Bellis Coldwine starts out being utterly unsympathetic and cold but she is gradually humanized as the story progresses. There are always surprises around the corner and the novel is never predictable.

Interestingly, with all this weirdness going on I am surprised that the most resonant part of the book for me is the brief scene where a young cabin boy (Shekel) learns to read and discover the joy of reading. Now that is something most of us Goodreads punters can identify with.

There are numerous wonders waiting to be discovered by the unsuspecting reader, and it all ends in a somewhat optimistic yet melancholy note. I find this book endlessly fascinating and I look forward to visit Bas-Lag again in the Iron Council.
Profile Image for Ian "Marvin" Graye.
861 reviews2,188 followers
May 20, 2016
Comparative Empathy

All through this work of fantasy, I couldn't help comparing it to William T Vollmann's "The Royal Family" and Angela Carter's "The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman" .

The more you read the work of William T Vollmann, the more you find things lacking. Fortunately, as if by way of compensation, most of these same things are present in the fiction of China Mieville.

Vollmann is touted as the master of empathy, even though his characters rarely show any empathy for each other. Little wonder, because in most cases, the characters are portrayed as ugly people doing ugly things to each other. (Perhaps, that's what we're supposed to have empathy for? Five star ideologues seem to think that the measure of Vollmann's achievement is the uglier the better. Steven Moore regards ugliness as praise, not censure.)

Whatever the relationship between Mieville's characters, Mieville portrays them in three dimensions, if not more. Vollmann might have perfected the art of interminable typing, but Mieville achieves extended imaginative writing on every page.

Vollmann is some kind of self-centred trickster-egoist American anarcho-libertarian who can't help but make himself the focus of attention in his work. Paradoxically, his perspective on the Other reflects his preoccupation with his own Self.

Vollmann uses his anarcho-hipster characters to promote himself within his fanbase with a view to pursuing his publishing career and his sense of entitlement to accolades and awards such as the Nobel Prize. His characters are rarely more than puppets. Though they nevertheless remain a prerequisite of the ambitious puppetmaster.

Mieville is of the Left, but of a different Left. He is a Socialist who is equally interested in the operation of the collective of society and the state (not to mention the relationship between them), in other words, of power relations and puissance and whether people get used or manipulated.

Tyranny and Mutation

His protagonist here is Bellis Coldwine, a woman who is in exile from her home, New Crobuzon. She is a linguist, librarian and translator who acquires a position of minor influence in late eighteenth century Armada, a world assembled from multiple ships and boats tied together on the surface of the ocean. It's a city-state that consists of various suburbs or "ridings", one of which becomes her residence, Garwater, which is ruled by a man and woman collectively called "the Lovers". Mieville gives neither of them a distinct name, referring to each only as "the Lover", so that they are only ever differentiated by pronouns. The two are halves of a Platonic whole who are infatuated with each other, although they display their affection by cutting and scarring each other's faces:

"cut yes love cut..."

Their wounds are their bonds, even if they disfigure each other and make themselves ugly and unattractive to others.

The Scar

Still, they have power, and Bellis becomes fascinated by them. To cut a long story short, she discovers that the Lovers are on a quest to locate a mythical place on the edge of the world called "the Scar", which is an ontological wound. Mieville describes it variously as a vertical rip, a fissure, a ravine, an abyss, a void, a cataclysm, a crevice, an endless fall, a crack in the world and a cosmic laceration.

The Scar consists of not just the factual or facticity, but also of possibility or multiple possibilities that can or might one moment become real or factual. The Lovers' quest is to mine these possibilities.

Mieville uses the word "nighs" to describe "close possibilities made real. Like ghosts. Some almost as strong as the factual, fading to those that are just barely there."

It's not made clear how this quest influences or perpetuates the Lovers' power. The mission isn't explained to the populace, but because of the perils involved ("the Lovers were subordinating everything to their search for the abstract power of the Scar"), it invokes a mutiny or rebellion, a civil war or challenge to the authority of the Lovers.

Mutiny, Rebellion and Chaos

The mutiny is anarchistic in inspiration, and lasts only momentarily:

"The truth terrified them: in those anarchic hours there was no one giving orders. There was no chain of command, no order, no hierarchy; nothing but a rugged, contingent democracy thrown together by the Armadans as they needed it."

"It did not take long for the mutineers to relinquish control. They had no program, no party. They were only ever a disparate group who found out they had been lied to, who did not want to die. They snatched power in an anarchic and momentary coup, and gave it up easily."

Exploring the Possibilities of Better Fiction

This focus on possibility and order also describes the process of writing fiction. Mieville uses the form of the novel to explore possibilities. He sees himself as "playing possibilities, making a concerto of likelihood and unlikelihood." His imagination works so vividly, energetically and spontaneously, yet it is creatively modulated enough to communicate effectively with its audience. It is highly structured, never chaotic or out of control, even if it often seems like a roller coaster ride.

While, as in the fiction of Angela Carter and Ursula Le Guin, there are underlying metaphysical concerns, superficially "The Scar" presents as an action novel within the fantasy genre. However, even within this framework, there is a far greater fictional and factual insight into diversity, differences and relationships than what Vollmann's marketeers and purveyors assert is reflected in his trickster-egoist indulgences.

Reading "The Scar", I couldn’t resist the conclusion that Vollmann is bogus, whereas Mieville is the real thing. Do yourself a favour!
Profile Image for Markus.
473 reviews1,526 followers
February 27, 2021
Rating under exceptionally heavy doubt. Some thought is needed on whether to be extremely generous or not.

Full review to come, maybe, at some point.
Profile Image for Mona.
484 reviews284 followers
March 31, 2015
Brilliant Sequel to "Perdido Street Station". Mieville at His Best

This is a brilliant and amazing novel, one of the best I've read in 2015.

If you like China Miéville (and admittedly, he's not to everyone's taste) and you enjoyed Perdido Street Station and like New Weird science fiction/fantasy, you will love this book.

China Mieville clearly borrows from the long and honorable tradition of British and American novels and plays about strange sea voyages (Robinson Crusoe, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, The Tempest etc.) There's also, of course, the ultimate sea story, Homer's Odyssey. One can even see the influence of Jules Verne (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea). But, through some miraculous alchemy, Mieville makes "The Scar" entirely his own. It's rich and strange.

One need not read the preceding novel, Perdido Street Station first, as "The Scar" is only loosely related to "Perdido Street". But I would suggest reading the books in order. Perdido Street Station is a fine work in its own right, and it provides useful background information about the world in which "The Scar" is set, Bas-Lag. Nevertheless, "The Scar" stands on its own.

The novel takes place in the eighteenth century in Bas-Lag, an alternate world of Mieville's creation.

The technology is appropriately strange and Victorian/Steam Punkish. There are dirigibles, coal powered steam ships, moveable oil rigs, possiblity machines, etc.

Our main character is the appropriately named Bellis Coldwine. Bellis is a linguist. She's published several scholarly works on various languages of Bas-Lag. She comes across to others as snooty and cold, but she really is neither. Underneath her haughty exterior, she is reserved, introspective, and very lonely. She also harbors wellsprings of emotion that are not accessible or apparent to others. She notes down her observations on her journey in a long letter that she never has a chance to post.

Bellis is a New Crobuzoner. (New Crobuzon is the metropolis that was the site of "Perdido Street Station). She loves New Crobuzon. Nevertheless, she is forced to flee from it. The oppressive authorities in New Crobuzon are blaming Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, a scientific genius who was one of the main characters in "Perdido Street Station" and the inventor of the Crisis Engine, for the recent problems in the city (depicted in "Perdido Street Station"). They are rounding up for questioning anyone who knew Isaac. Since Bellis was one of Isaac's former lovers, she doesn't feel safe in New Crobuzon. She decides to "disappear" for a few years".

Bellis's plan is to take a sea voyage to Nova Esperium, a Crobuzoner colony. She books passage on the Terpsichoria, a ship bound for Nova Esperium.

However, things do not go as planned. For various reasons, Bellis ends up, against her will, in the floating city of Armada. Armada is a city made up of ships.

All kinds of adventures (and misadventures) happen on Armada.

A number of Bellis's shipmates from the Terpsichoria end up in Armada along with her. These include Johannes Tearfly, a biologist who studies undersea animals, particularly very large ones; Tanner Sac, an engineer with a remade body (he has tentacles---various types of "remaking" are a common punishment for criminals in New Crobuzon); and Shekel, a young cabin boy who befriends Tanner.

In Armada, Bellis is miserable. Her plan had been to return to New Crobuzon after a few years away, and she feels she can never go back.

In Armada, Bellis meets various others. These include Silas Fennec (a.k.a. Simon Fench), a mysterious New Crobuzon native who comes and goes; Uther Doul, a warrior/philospher who is an apparently undefeatable fighter; "The Lovers", an unnamed pair with identically scarred faces who are leaders of Armada; and Carrie Ann, a librarian.

Bellis is a bit naive. Part of this is because she is lonely and feels out of place in Armada. She really doesn't know who to trust.

Of course, on Armada, it is difficult to know who to trust. No one is who they seem to be.

The eponymous "Scar" refers to a place. But the scar motif is woven throughout the novel. Almost every character ends up with physical and/or emotional scars of one kind or another.

I will say no more to avoid spoilers.

But this is quite an amazing read.

It was long, but it did not feel like it was too long.

Actor Gildart Jackson does a brilliant job reading the audio.

Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Andrea.
378 reviews53 followers
October 27, 2012
This is not an easy book to read, and this is also not a “nice” book to read. The ending doesn’t make you feel warm fuzzies that despite hardships and adventure, everyone sails off into the sunset singing gaily. You don’t feel all bubbly and relaxed and entertained. The Princess Bride this is not.

You feel disturbed. You feel upset. You feel compassion. You feel anger. You feel distaste. You feel confused. You feel overwhelmed. And at the conclusion, you feel …... scarred.

Nataliya and Catie have already explained, far better than I ever could , the labyrinthine, kaleidoscopic, outrageously imaginative settings and protagonists that Mieville explores in this extravaganza of adventure, pirates, dictators, quests, betrayal, manipulation, loyalty, revenge, love, battle, vampires, cactus people, ghouls, mosquito people, grindylows, the avanc….the man’s imagination seems boundless.

But against this rich background, some protagonists loom enormous, and their emotions are palpable, their pain and confusion and motives leap out of the pages and tear at your heart. For me the most compelling were - Bellis, who is stubbornly driven to escape home, whatever the cost. Tanner, a Remade with a capacity for fierce love and loyalty and a vulnerability for terrible hurt. The Lovers, desperate to find themselves in each other. And the enigmatic Doul, whose motives encompass all probabilities.

The motif of the scar is everywhere in the richly multilayered work. The scar that weakens. The scar that wounds. The scar that opens. The scar that binds. And finally the scar that heals.
Profile Image for Kitty G Books.
1,551 reviews2,937 followers
February 21, 2018
I'm very glad I read this one, the second in the Bas-Lag series, because the first one was so very weird and wonderful and I did wonder if Miéville would be able to once again excite and enchant me. I'm happy to say, he did it again!

This story focuses on a character called Bellis, who is a refugee from New Crobuzon, trying to escape before the Militia come after her. Bellis is a translator, and she's taken on the ship which is travelling to a far off colony where she hopes to lay low for a few years before returning to New Crobuzon. However, things don't go as planned because the ship Bellis is on is quickly hijacked by pirates from Armada, and Bellis' escape is derailed.

The other major character we focus on is Tanner. Tanner is a Remade, someone who was viciously mutilated and punished and is essentially a slave. He's being sent with a hold full of prisoners to the colonies to work there as a slave, and he's not excited about it. He's had tentacles grafted onto his skin, but the job was a bad one, and he's not used to the new limbs. He's resentful of those who have done this to him, and being rescued by Pirates is actually the best thing he could have hoped for!

We follow both of these characters as they each have their own tale to tell about their time on board the ship, as part of the Armada, and as citizens of New Crobuzon. It's quickly clear that their experiences throughout are vastly different, and they have very different reasoning for the decisions they make, but they do later on form an uneasy partnership.

One of the most wonderful elements of Miéville's books is certainly the sheer imaginative quality of hiw worlds. The first book describes a city which is like no other, and the second is set on a collection of floating boats that together form a city completely unique. There's a lot of really creative ideas in the make up of the city and the characters and races who we follow, and the tolerance and acceptance of Armada is quite refreshing to read about too.

This story certainly draws on the old classic sailor's tale of adventuring the seas, pillaging, and journeying the deeps with great sea monsters and more. There are quite a few moments in the story where we see the inhabitants of the city scheming or plotting to undertake huge plans, and some of these even come to fruition which leaves the story with lots of twists and turns.

Although I think the characters of this book are certainly well done, they aren't necessarily people you will 'like' because they have a fierce rigidity and determination to them. I do think some of the decisions they made were foolhardy and ill-advised, but it makes for a story which keeps you guessing right the way through and although it does hark back to old sailor's stories, there's a lot of originality in these pages.

Overall, I think this is a story can can be read completely independently of the first book (although you will probably get a bit more knowing about New Crobuzon because it is referenced throughout the book and awful lot) and it's a story that stands up on its own. This feels fresh and innovative and filled with grit, and I definitely enjoyed reading it. 4*s overall from me.
Profile Image for Ivan.
417 reviews278 followers
July 23, 2016
So far my favorite Miéville's book.

Again main star is one very fascinating city but very different one. New crobuzone is filthy, dream shattering capitalist metropolis, pirate city Armada tries to be opposite. While in Perdido street station he criticizes capitalism in The scar he takes shots at communism and socialism, which I did find bit surprising as Miéville is left wing political activist.
Other than fascinating city this book features multilayered story, well developed characters and creatures so strange I occasionally had hard time imagining them. All things standard for Miéville's books.
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,923 reviews1,260 followers
April 11, 2011
I'm not sure how I feel about China Miéville.

On one hand, Miéville is a competent writer and, even better, a superb storyteller. The three books of his that I've read (including this one) are good. People tend to gush about his worldbuilding, often at the expense, I think, of talking about everything else that's great about his stories, but they do it because of his obvious skill in this area. Many great fantasy authors create wonderful stories by taking the traditional elements of fantasy and executing them in new or skillful ways. Miéville, instead, is all about making his own rules.

On the other hand, my enjoyment of his books has not been unconditional. My reviews of The City & the City and Perdido Street Station are positive and enthusiastic, but as with those books, I cannot quite bring myself to give The Scar five stars. And I honestly can't tell you which of the three books I like best. Miéville, for me, is slightly ineffable. I don't really know why.

I didn't like Bellis Coldwine. She is intelligent but guileless, and she seems to lack initiative. Once taken captive by pirates, she becomes a press-ganged citizen of Armada, a vast ocean-borne city constructed out of floating hulks of ships. Bellis is free, but she can never leave Armada. Nevertheless, now that she's aware of the city's existence, she feels compelled to escape somehow and warn her hometown, New Crobuzon, of Armada's nature. This is the same New Crobuzon whose militia has been hunting Bellis because of her connection to the main character from Perdido Street Station; it's this semi-fugitive status that causes Bellis to leave the city in the first place.

I don't like protagonists who wallow in their powerlessness. I had the same problem with Yeine in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms . Like Yeine, Bellis is a competent and capable person, but she can't seem to do anything without first aligning herself with other characters, and those allies inevitably have ulterior agendas. In fact, one of the best parts of The Scar comes toward the end when a character whom we've been encouraged to view as a protagonist suddenly turns out to be an opportunistic antagonist. Eventually Bellis ends up working with everyone she spent the first half of the book trying to avoid—but that's through no actions of her own. She's merely carried along by the plot, and that disappoints me.

Fortunately, there are secondary characters aplenty who make The Scar an interesting read. Tanner Sack is a criminal from New Crobuzon, shipped out on the same vessel as Bellis, only in chains and Remade. He's got chest tentacles! In Armada, however, even the Remade are free and equal, so Tanner pledges his loyalty to his new home in a way Bellis is categorically incapable of doing. He embraces his new tentacles and gets Remade even further, becoming a creature at home in the water even as he works in Armada as an engineer. And he befriends Shekel, the former cabin boy of the ship on which he was a prisoner. Shekel is a fifteen-year-old boy who falls head-over-heels in love when he arrives at Armada. At first I thought Miéville was going to create a love triangle between Shekel, Tanner, and Angevine—much to my surprise, Tanner's interactions with the two lovers were always for their benefit, with nary a hint of jealousy. I like it when I'm wrong in my predictions in this way. The relationship between Tanner and Shekel is an important metric for Bellis' contributions to the fate of Armada. Tanner helps Bellis once, regrets it, and helps her again—albeit obliquely—when he learns she was just as much a pawn as he was. Shekel is the one who pays for their mistakes.

The relationships between Tanner and Shekel and between Shekel and Angevine are also significant because they are pretty much unique. The other relationships in The Scar are ambiguous. Miéville noticeably avoids any suggestions of romance. In fact, he draws attention to the absence of romance from people's partnerships. Bellis and Silas Fennec have sex as they work to get word to New Crobuzon, but they don't "make love;" they just fuck. Bellis is frank with her lack of feelings for Silas: they aren't lovers, and they aren't even friends. They're allies. Later, Bellis wonders if Uther Doul is flirting with her—she even admits that she kind of wants him to make a move:

She was drawn to him, powerfully. She wanted him: his power and his grim self-control, his beautiful voice. His cool intelligence, the obvious fact that he liked her. The sense that she would be more in control than he, should anything happen between them, and not just because she was older. She would not coquette, but she engineered enough of a dynamic that he must know.

But he never touched her. Bellis was unsettled by that.

Uther Doul is another intriguing character, if only because he's the only character who has a true backstory. He's a cipher whose true intentions, whether amatory or political, are occluded. Like pretty much every character in the book, he can't be called a protagonist or an antagonist, but it seems like, more than most of the characters, he does have Armada's best interests in mind.

Of course, the one pair who symbolize Miéville's avoidance of romance have to be the Lovers themselves. The leaders of Armada in all but name, the Lovers signify their "affection" for each other by mutually scarring their bodies (this is but one of the multitudinous meanings that "scar" has in this book). The point is that the relationship they have is not one of love and mutual affection. It's a combative, abusive relationship conducted in a language filled with terms of endearment. Their involvement begins with passion but gets twisted, sullied, and ultimately reforged into a kind of frenetic madness that cements their unity. True to form, however, Miéville cannot leave anything in his world alone, and he pushes that unity to its breaking point—and beyond.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is this: The Scar has travel and adventure and conflict. There's a huge, almost epic battle scene between a New Crobuzon fleet and Armada, one with ramifications for all of our major characters. Armada succeeds in harnessing an avanc, an extra-dimensional sort of leviathian-like beast that it uses as a means of propulsion, and it sets out upon the Empty Ocean toward the eponymous Scar, where reality itself is broken and in flux. They meet up with a familiar face who tells a tale of an alternative possibility where Armada goes over the edge and falls into the Scar, and the way Miéville describes it is sufficient for me to imagine a scene out of something like Pirates of the Caribbean. The Scar definitely has cinematic qualities to it. But that's not what I focused on when I was reading, and it's not what I remember when I think about the book.

What sticks in my mind about The Scar is Bellis Coldwine's sense of loneliness and alienation. Despite my misgivings about her ineffectiveness as a main character, she does a fine job conveying the futility she feels while trapped on Armada. The central question for me, as the reader, was "whose side am I on?" What do I want to see happen? Do I want to see New Crobuzon arrive to smash Armada, killing so many people, just so Bellis can go home? Do I want Armada to reach the Scar, despite the consequences it might have for the rest of the world? Miéville creates a dilemma, not just because the characters are morally ambiguous, but because their situations are also ambiguously amoral. There is no clear division between "good" and "bad" here, and there aren't even clear divisions between protagonists and antagonists—everyone seems to be on his or her own side, and allegiances shift with the tides.

So The Scar is riveting, and it's fascinating. As with his other two books, it isn't entirely convincing. There are aspects that make me hesitate when it comes to falling in love with Miéville's work. I don't have any reservations about his skill or his craftsmanship. Yet something prevents me from fully committing to him.

It is entirely possible, however, that I am over-analyzing. Maybe my trepidation is just a sign of how well Miéville manages to defy my expectations and deliver something unique: it's just so good I'm suspicious of how good it is! While I am not sure how I would rank The Scar against the other two novels I've read, it does stand out for the extremes to which Miéville goes to depict a different world entirely. New Crobuzon was a weird city, but it was still a city. Armada is something completely different. However, that is where the differences end. The tone and the style and the trademark themes established in his other works are still there. And maybe that's the source of my discomfort: despite his departure from other authors in his genres, within his own oeuvre, what little of it I've experienced, Miéville is remarkably consistent. I want to see him do more, and do it differently from how he's done it before. Until I do, he'll continue to impress me, but I'm always going to be left less than sated.

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Profile Image for Ruby  Tombstone Lives!.
338 reviews412 followers
May 27, 2012
When I started this book, I didn't expect to love it in the way that I loved Perdido Street Station. I was right. They are two very different books. Where Perdido.. was one fantastic, magical surprise after another, The Scar has more subtle depths. And for that, I think I love The Scar even more.
Scars are not injuries, Tanner Sack. A scar is a healing. After an injury, a scar is what makes you whole.
In The Scar, Miéville takes the idea of the scar and mines it for every possible metaphor and meaning. From the concept of scars as wounds and ultimately healing, through scars as pacts and loss of self, the scar as portal and transformation, to ultimately scars as personal history, identity and remembrance. Again and again, the theme of scars was raised, explored and taken in a different direction.
In time, in time they tell me, I'll not feel so bad. I don't want time to heal me. There's a reason I'm like this.
I want time to set me ugly and knotted with loss of you, marking me. I won't smooth you away.
I can't say goodbye.

Truth is another of the book's key themes. For many of us, the truth is something we have to know, to search for and understand. But what if the truth is irrelevant, or something better left unknown, or worse still... What if there is no truth? Whoa! I know, right?

'There is no IT, Bellis,' he said. 'Go away.' He lay down and gazed at the ceiling. 'Go away. I wanted to get home, and you were useful. You know what I did, and you know why. There’s no mystery, no resolution to be had. Go away.'

Beyond that, the book explores recurring themes of personal action and inaction, loyalty, possibility, obsession and home. Miéville gives you a lot to think about in this book, long after you've closed the last page. Many of the key themes are explored via the book's central character, Bellis Coldwine. She is a complex, flawed and deeply reflective character, whose strength of conviction is both her greatest asset and her biggest weakness. I saw more than a little of myself in Bellis, and I can't help but wonder how much of that is because she is so well written that it is easy for anyone to see a part of themselves in her. Or maybe I just have some issues to work through..

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And then, of course, there's Armada. How could anyone NOT fall in love with a floating city, patched together from derelict ships and filled with species of people of every kind? As in Perdido.., His Chinaness has created a vividly detailed, magical, but throughly believable city that I was more than happy to immerse myself in.

As in the last book, the writing is gorgeous, the structure impeccable and I gave google a good thrashing with words like, "bathypelagicrafts". The book is as near to perfect as I can imagine. Seriously, I cannot think of a single thing I would change. That NEVER happens. If you haven't read this book, you need to.

Profile Image for Stuart.
718 reviews268 followers
December 19, 2013
After the wild, phantasmagorical, grotesque, occasionally humorous, and endlessly inventive Perdido Street Station, I found The Scar to be far more dark, subdued, and less engaging. Yes, the setting and characters are complex and imaginative, but the floating pirate-city of Armada just didn't grab me the way the twisting alleyways and neighborhoods of New Crobuzon did. And even the large cast of characters, like Bellis Coldwine, Tanner Sack, Silas Fennec, Sheckel, Uther Doul, The Brucolac, The Lovers, Hedgrigall, etc, failed to draw me into their intertwined stories. Even the language, so baroque and ornate in PSS, was not as vivid and dynamic this time around.

There's no question that China Mieville has a powerful imagination and unique vision to share, but I'm starting to wonder what the pay-off is in his books. I'm going to start The Iron Council next and keep an open mind at this point.
Profile Image for ᴥ Irena ᴥ.
1,649 reviews213 followers
October 11, 2014
These might not be the most coherent thoughts I've written.
I am exhausted. I wasn't allowed to choose one side and stick to it. I kept switching. And I loved it.

The Scar is more adventure than Perdido Street Station and not just because most of it happens on a floating pirate city. There are mysteries, lies and betrayals, spies, monsters, magic, naval battles and so on. It's not even a spoiler; after you read the description of the book, you expect nothing less.

Bellis Coldwine, one of the protagonists, is first mentioned in the first book as Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin's previous lover, who left him because she got bored of his 'rumbustiousness'. Can't say I blame her. They couldn't be more different. I didn't like Bellis at all. When she wasn't angry at people, the world, the situation, she was mopping around Armada.
The way she is introduced is completely opposite of garuda Yagharek: when you meet the garuda, you meet the present Yagharek and make your own mind about him before you find out anything about his crime. You get to see a side of him that you'd probably ignore otherwise. I found Bellis irritating right away. She is a really unpleasant person.

It tells a lot about the writing and the story when a character this unlikeable hasn't managed to ruin anything for me. Further more, her character, such as it is, is a very important part of the plot. If she had been just a bit more passionate, she would have been one of the strongest female characters I've read.

Bellis Coldwine is an unavoidable linchpin for the main story and someone who pushes the events forward, but she herself isn't very distinguishable.

The consequences of Isaac's actions in Perdido Street Station can be seen here, albeit indirectly and miles away from New Crobuzon. As someone Isaac knew, Bellis was forced to flee the city. She lied her way on a ship headed for a new colony. The ship also transported a lot of prisoners, most of them Remade.
Armada assimilated them most. I can't blame the Remade for wanting to make Armada their home.The Remade are paid for the work they do.
Everyone is equal on Armada even though some are a bit more equal than others.
Armada by Franco Brambilla
Armada Link to more artwork and one of the reasons why I read this longer.

There are so many fascinating characters and beings here that a whole review could be written only about them. Miéville can also make us feel sorry for the monsters - anophelii female trying to talk to the man and being shot because they were afraid she was hungry is understandable, terrifying and heartbreaking at the same time.

Armada consists of different sections with different rulers. The most intriguing character (I bet I am not the only one) in the book does not get any explanation. Uther Doul tells Bellis part of his story, but he still manages to stay mysterious.

Even after reading the book, my feelings towards Armada are ambiguous. I can't seem to make up my mind. I see the wrongs of it, but I can't forget the Remade and a lot of other things. One thing is certain, the first impression of Armada is definitely not the right one.

Profile Image for Sarah.
732 reviews73 followers
March 27, 2016
This is quite a strange book and it really didn't head in any of the many directions I could have imagined. Mieville's extraordinary world-building is in evidence again, with legions of creatures, aliens, and countries in play.

This one takes place entirely on the ocean, from one ship to a connected flotilla-landmass thing... Okay, clearly I don't have Mieville's way with words. The point is that there is a focus to the things that are under the water, beyond the water, across the water, at the edge of the water, and one of those thingies that goes through the water (canal). There's lots and lots of water in this. So for people with water phobias - steer clear.

It was an imaginative book and the story itself was anything but straightforward. Interestingly to me, he used a MC that was actually pretty unlikable. Not that any of the characters were terribly likable...

Weird book but really good and totally worth reading.
Profile Image for Olethros.
2,617 reviews429 followers
July 1, 2020
-Más ambicioso que el anterior pero, a pesar de ello, más centrado.-

Género. Narrativa fantástica (a pesar de lo “científico”).

Lo que nos cuenta. El libro La cicatriz (publicación original: The Scar, 2002) nos presenta a Bellis Gelvino, una mujer que busca alejarse de Nueva Crobuzon porque siente que su vida está en peligro allí y que, para ello, se enrola en un barco, el Terpsícore, como traductora al servicio del capitán en sus labores de negocios y política. Acontecimientos inesperados hacen que el buque deba volver a Nueva Crobuzon, pero un ataque hace que el Terpsícore deba unirse a una enorme ciudad pirata flotante llamada Armada y cuyos líderes, más allá de conservar su independencia y forma de vida, tienen unos planes muy ambiciosos de gran alcance que podrían cambiar el equilibrio de poder en Bas-Lag. Segundo libro de la trilogía Bas-Lag.

¿Quiere saber más de este libro, sin spoilers? Visite:

Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,228 reviews2,058 followers
January 30, 2015
I love China Miéville. His imagination has no bounds and each book he writes is original. As usual his world building in this book is phenomenal. Who else could have created mosquito people whose men are harmless herbivores while the women (six foot tall but flying just like mosquitoes) crave blood and can suck a human dry in minutes. And then there is the creation called Armada, a floating city formed by attaching hundreds of boats together. I loved his descriptions of how the parks and libraries, shops and houses were placed in this city and how people progressed around it over rope bridges between decks. I really, really wanted to go visit! An excellent book and well worth reading.
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