Perdido Street Station by China Mieville

I read The Scar first (and reviewed it here, in April I think), but this was his first novel set in the extraordinary SF/fantasy world he has created. It’s not on as grand a scale, not as spectacular in many ways, and maybe not as confident in some literary senses – things like theme and motif – but it has some strengths to make up for those things. The main one is the city, New Crobuzon: I’ve rarely read a novel where the city feels so much like a character, a key participant in the story, not a mere canvas. I think it’s the greatest city creation in the SF or fantasy genre, a place full of wonders and dirt, nonhuman creatures and robots alongside thieves and dissidents, political repression and secrets and magicians and monsters.

Also it has potent horror elements that The Scar didn’t, including some genuinely original and scary central monsters, and the city’s last resort in combatting them – their preferred approach was asking Hell for help, offering pretty much anything to Hell to save them, but Hell was too scared to try, so there was only one option left. That’s setting the bar insanely high, but he pulls it off: you believe that Hell was scared of these creatures, and why that was a much better option than what they have to try instead.

Then there are many things as good in both books: he writes the best prose in the genre since M. John Harrison (that’s not small praise: I regard Harrison as the best English prose writer since Wodehouse), and the characters are complex and weighty. He’s not a pandering writer, and he is a brave one: there is genuine and shocking, painful tragedy here, and unresolvable moral quandaries. Best of all, it’s a really thrilling novel, full of excitement and a powerful plot driving it all. There are at least half a dozen threads and characters here that could make more great novels in this world. I will read every book this man writes, and I hope there are a lot of them. It seems like decades since any other writer so thoroughly enjoyable on every level came along.