Title: The Scar
Author: China Miéville
Release date: June 29, 2004
Publisher: Del Rey
Genre: Science fiction/fantasy
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Bellis Coldwine is unhappily fleeing her home in New Crobuzon for a colony across the world. Bellis, a cold, competent linguist, soon finds herself impressed by pirates and dropped onto the floating city of Armada.
There she becomes tangled in the machinations of Armada’s rulers – the masochistic couple known as The Lovers and their enigmatic bodyguard Uther Doul. This trio is more ambitious than most in Armada’s history, and their plans soon attract the attention of Silas Fennec, a spy from New Crobuzon who, like Bellis, desperately needs to return home.
The Scar is an atypical fantasy novel for a variety of reasons. First, Bellis is an unusual choice for a main character. She is not a fighter, and she spends several battles sensibly concealed in a good hiding place. In addition, Bellis is a complex but not terribly likeable character; she could never be described as friendly or open. She struck me as the antithesis of Abercrombie’s Logen Ninefingers in that she is someone you immediately respect, but only grudgingly grow to like. Although, to be fair, I don’t know why you would compare the two.
For much of the novel, Miéville seems to share Bellis’s aversion to battle. Action scenes are often described in a stark, perfunctory manner, and on one notable occasion, left out completely. (I still can’t get over that!)
Where Miéville shines is his setting. The city of Armada has weight and history, and feels like a real, livable place in the way that very few novels can match. Even the districts within Armada, like Garwater, Dry Falls, and Thee and Thine, have their own unique flavor and politics. But Mièville doesn’t just describe Armada like you might describe New York or London. This is a fantasy world, after all, filled with sentient cacti, fearsome mosquito people and vampire lords who charge taxes in blood.
If you’re intrigued by this world, you might also like Miéville’s first book set in New Crobuzon, Perdido Street Station. However, The Scar is a stand-alone book in the same universe, not a sequel, so new-to-Miéville readers should be able to follow along just fine.
The story ebbs and flows. While pacing may not be Miéville’s strength, the journey of The Scar aboard Armada is well worth it in the end. The plot is creative and full of surprises, and I recommend it for veteran and newbie sci-fi/fantasy fans alike.
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