Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Iron Council by China Miéville

Lost somewhere between Western, political thought experiment and steampunk love story, I would call Iron Council genreless, despite its fantastical Bas Lag setting - the complex world of Miéville's two previous 'weird fiction' books.

Picking up in the seething metropolis of New Crobuzon a vague number of years after Perdido Street Station's time, Iron Council opens with the urgent chase of a fleeing Judah Low (whose namesake, I have recently discovered having been in Prague & seen the cemetery where he is buried, is Rabbi Loewe - the man who, according to legend, made the first golem), a master golemist who leaves New Crobuzon in a time of political upheaval to find the legendary renegades known as the Iron Council. Judah's lover Cutter and a small devoted following set out through Rudewood to help him, pursued by a mysterious government agent.

Back in New Crobuzon things are heating up - the war with neighbouring Tesh ploughs on and the human, insectoid, cactoid and amphibian inhabitants of the city are falling into a deeper state of unrest. A young rebel named Ori is being sucked further & further into the gangland underbelly of New Crobuzon and its own special brand of justice. Miéville really gets under the collective psychological skin of the city this time around, which I know annoyed some readers due to its heavily political nature, but which I was very pleased by. He explores romantic revolutionaries, the sometime hypocrisy of revolt, selfish extremism and the drive for rightness in a confusing, realistic world. I think the thing I like most about it (and I guess this is what I like about all well-written science fiction) is how much it mirrors our world, and yet is at the same time a huge leap of the writer's imagination.

Running alongside these narratives is a third, set in the dusty memories of Judah Low. In a classic Western-style story we learn how the Iron Council came to be. These chapters are full of clinking metal, steam engines, unchartered wilderness & even a visit from a familiar arachnid character. What bothered me at first about this story was the same thing I loved it for by the end: its dustiness, its old-fashioned vibe, its melancholia.

Another beautifully written book with a huge & well-realised story. I can't recommend Miéville's novels enough to those of you who appreciate science fiction, weird fiction, or just good fiction. Go forth & absorb.

Plus - my copy is signed!!! :D

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