“The river turns and twists to face the city. It looms suddenly, massive, stamped on the landscape. Its light wells up around the surrounds, the rock hills, like bruise-blood. Its dirty towers glow.” ~ China Miéville, Perdido Street Station
Perdido Street Station by China Miéville
Published by Ballantine Books, 2000
Genre: Fantasy, horror
Re-readability: I probably won’t revisit this one
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Reviewed by Pete
This book has been on my TBR shelf for years, and I read it just in time for Halloween—though I had no idea it was a horror novel.
The city of New Crobuzon is filled with a variety of humans and xenians—sentient, non-human races. At the center of a bohemian group of friends are the scientist Isaac and the artist Lin—who is a khepri, a race whose women have large scarabs for heads. Lin is commissioned (by a particularly dangerous patron) to create a sculpture that her life may depend on, while Isaac is approached by a garuda—a bird-like xenian—to have his missing wings remade.
This is a story in two parts. It begins with Isaac and Lin, a rare cross-species couple, struggling to survive in a world that would reject their existence as a couple while trying to create successful careers in unconventional fields. They’re both starving artists, essentially, and the crew of characters had a feeling of a group of postgraduate students finding their places in the world.
About two fifths into the novel, the story changes entirely and becomes a horror novel. Several horrific monsters (which I won’t describe here, because their reveal is amazing) threaten the lives of everyone in New Crobuzon—and of course, Isaac and his friends may be the only ones who can stop them.
I found Miéville’s plotting to be fairly fast-paced and enjoyed the smaller arcs that he set up in the first half of the novel. When the monsters were introduced (out of nowhere), I was expecting a fun sort of interlude to the story. However, the plot stops there—these monsters take up the rest of the characters’ struggles, and I felt that many arcs (and relationships, and questions) were unresolved or squashed by the monsters. It felt like the book had been invaded by monsters from another series—set in the same world—and the monsters were free to wreak havoc with the characters and their dreams and relationships.
Now, I did enjoy the monster hunt part of the book quite a lot. It was absolutely terrifying—some of the most frightening, disturbing writing I have ever read. But it was completely unexpected, and it left me feeling as if I never got to finish the main story. On top of this, the stakes were often unclear, and it felt as if the characters were simply being pushed around by one disaster after another—rather than making decisions to push the plot forward.
It’s worth mentioning that this is also one of the most disgusting books I have ever read. There are many horrific and grotesque scenes of mutilation, bodily functions, and vile creatures. The detail was excessive, and I suspect that this was Miéville’s aim, but prepare yourself to be thoroughly grossed out pretty much for the duration of the novel.
This was a fun book, but its first act sets up a very different story than the one the author ultimately delivers.