The Scar – China Mieville

I’d been meaning to try Mieville for a while, due to recommendations and reviews. Weirdly, I found the book pretty different from what the critics has led me to expect. The first one inside the cover has the Telegraph claiming that his fantasy world is “utterly coherent”, and this is nonsense, and pointless as praise. You can see any number of coherent fantasy worlds in the genre, and they are almost all completely dull. Mieville ties this sprawling complex of ideas together pretty well, but it doesn’t fully cohere – but then again, I don’t think the real world does. Also, although he writes very well, I really don’t think the prose is as gorgeous as say M. John Harrison, another writer in that same low-tech SF/fantasy territory.

It’s the ideas and their interaction that appeals a lot. Who could resist this, one of the main climaxes: the floating pirate city at the heart of this tale has tamed a gargantuan sea monster, miles long; a spy has stolen secrets and a magic idol from a bunch of monstrous sea creatures; these creatures come to get it back, and team up with a gang of vampires to attack the pirates, whose defence is led by the most charismatic creation in this book, a martial arts master armed with a sword that kind of embodies quantum possibilities. How can you not get excited about a book bringing all this together? Who else has brought us vampires plus sea monsters versus pirates plus a martial artist? What more could you want? Actually there is much more – ancient magics and superscience, mosquito women and cactus men and all sorts.

He structures this long novel (about 800 pages) superbly too, building up plot after plot to terrific climaxes, introducing new characters and ideas throughout, all with energy and skill. It’s an exciting novel all the way through, full of intelligence and adventure and thrills – the delicate weaving of themes and motifs (scars and communication in particular) is beautifully done. I’m pretty sure he’s going to be one of my favourite writers.