By China Mieville
I enjoyed this book for the most part, but it felt a little frenetic to me. At the outset of the book I was plunged into the middle of the world Mieville has created with little exposition. Now, I don’t mind this. It has the advantage of creating instant immersion into the realm of the text. It can be a double-edged sword though. Without initial explanation of who characters are, what this place is, or why I should care, there is a danger that I won’t be interested. Even worse, I might not be able to pick up on things before the plot is going full-tilt. Mieville avoids this about half the time in this volume. I had to re-read the beginning to get my bearings.
The world itself was not my favorite. There was little cohesion to the world. Off the top of my head, there were at least eight separate sentient species on one planet, ranging from human to humanoid cacti to insectoids. While most of them were humanoid, they all seemed to spring from entirely different sources and have little to no intermarriage (in fact, it’s something of a taboo). There was no explanation of how any of these races came to be or how they fit into the overarching world. It felt like when a kid is playing make believe and says “You know what else would be cool?” and the adult is left thinking “Wait. Why are the alligators using a rope swing as a catapult again? And where did the Power Rangers come from?” (btw, that doesn’t happen in the book. I have simply talked to a lot of five year olds). It was honestly very frustrating to me. I thought that the world would have been quite a bit better with just a little bit of exposition added.
This lack of explanation was not only a problem with the world building. The main character is a scientist. He has a hypothetical theory that develops over the course of the plot. Even by the end of the book, I was not satisfied that I understood what the theory was or how it worked. As it was obvious that this theory was important I really wanted to comprehend what Mieville had in mind. Unfortunately, I was not given that opportunity.
All that said, this was a really fun read. I thought I had figured out where the plot was headed and then it did a headstand on itself. That’s one of the things I love about Mieville’s work. You always have to stay on your toes. Another thing I love is Mieville’s prose. As much as I complained above, his word choice and style are completely wonderful. Every time I read a Mieville book my vocabulary expands by at least 20 words. As a bibliophile I will tell you, “Worth.”