- Paperback: 800 pages
- Publisher: Tor UK; Reprints edition (1 July 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0330534319
- ISBN-13: 978-0330534314
- Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 13 x 5.1 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 590 g
- Customer Reviews: 166 customer ratings
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 134,567 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Scar: A Bas-Lag Novel 2 Paperback – 1 July 2011
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About the Author
China Mieville has lived all his life in London. His first novel, King Rat, received superb reviews and was nominated for fantasy awards, and his second, Perdido Street Station, astonished the literary world with its imaginative power and sheer inventiveness. It won the Arthur C Clarke award and the British Fantasy Award in 2001.
The Scar followed that book in 2002, and in 2004, China's fourth novel, Iron Council was published. It won the Arthur C Clarke award for 2005. His most recent work is Looking for Jake.
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Bellis is our POV for around 80% of the time, so we really get to know her quite well. A cold woman, all she wants is to get back to New Crobuzon but is inadvertently drawn into other people's schemes. She is not the easiest person to empathise with due to her nature but you understand her motivations and I was rooting for her. Tanner is also well drawn, even with less page time, and is much more sympathetic, more your traditional everyman hero. There are a few more POV's but none major and to talk of them would be somewhat spoilery.
Like Perdido Street Station the world that Mieville has created is the real star. Those hoping for more New Crobuzon will be disappointed. It is always there in the background but none of the story is set there. This is almost an old fashioned quest pirate story but as always they are twists. Again the imagination on show here is staggering from giant sea creatures from another dimension, to an island of mosquito people to a literal rift through space and time. What is really impressive is how ordinary it all seems to the characters in the book. It's just another journey, another job, worrying to be sure but all quite normal. There was a revelation (perhaps too strong a word) later in the book that blew me away for it's ordinariness, it was brilliant.
What let it down from a possible five stars was its pacing. I have no problems with a slow burn but honestly you could do a summary of the plot of the book in a couple of paragraphs. I just felt it dragged a bit in places, even with all the beautiful and horrible descriptions that the author so likes to give. It did of course heat up towards the end but the vast majority of the book is just day to day living, though in a singular unusual place. This is not a typical fantasy book even if it consists of most of the ingredients. A great book though maybe not if you're looking for something fast paced.
Set in the same steampunk world as Perdido Street Station, The Scar could only loosely be considered a sequel; sharing neither its setting nor any of its characters. Bellis Coldwine, the book's protagonist, begins the book fleeing the events of Perdido, unwillingly bound for New Crobuzon's colony of Nova Esperium. She is soon pressganged and brought aboard Armada, a floating pirate city comprised of hundreds of captured ships. Coldwine finds herself caught up in a web of intrigue surrounding the Armandans' plan to harness the power of the Scar, a mysterious fissure in reality.
The Scar can be a challenging book. It is lengthy, densely-written, and demands attention to the details of its richly-imagined world. Mieville has not set out to write a thriller in the vein of Perdido here. Whilst his riotous imagination is as active as ever, and there are spectacular setpieces aplenty as the plot gathers pace in The Scar's latter third, this is largely a calmer and more introspective book than its predecessor.
What makes The Scar a triumph is the strength of its characters and themes. From Silas Fennec, a manipulative agent of the New Crobuzon government, to the Lovers, the visionary, deranged leaders of Armada's most powerful faction, The Scar's principal players are a substantial and engaging cast. Their conspiracies, uneasy alliances and betrayals keep the plot moving at a fair clip, but also feel entirely authentic; the natural product of their competing interests. Our heroes here are unhappily bound together on an expedition for which few have great enthusiasm; motivated instead by self-interest or fear. In this darkest of fantasies, the alternative to despair is not heroism but hubris. The novel's genius is that it provides a gripping account of grand adventure, even as it critiques such Utopian folly.
Coldwine herself is no hero, but a self-interested and single-minded protagonist. Initially difficult to like, she is nevertheless beautifully-drawn and entirely believable. And as she feels pangs of homesickness and powerlessness in the face of the Armandans' machinations, it would take a cold-hearted reader not to end up rooting for her. The Scar's ending, too, has attracted a degree of opprobrium. Without wishing to give anything away, I will simply say that I thought it was a master stroke; a perfect conclusion to the book's exploration of the ways in which we are wounded and then made whole, however imperfectly.
In short, The Scar may not always be an easy read, but it is a hugely rewarding one. Powerful and melancholy, it takes Mieville's characteristic flare for spectacle and inventiveness, and harnesses them in the service of a rich human drama. A unique, brilliant work. Highly recommended.