China Mieville,
The Scar
(Del Rey, 2002)

It took perhaps four chapters for me to realize what I'd heard all along. The Scar by China Mieville is not Perdido Street Station, the author's previous novel, nor is it really a sequel. For one thing, The Scar is told largely from the point of view of a character who was mentioned all of once, in passing, in Perdido Street. For another, the story never once sets foot in New Crobuzon, the terrifying, beautiful, fabulous city Mieville imagined for his previous novel. Rather, the action takes place in Armada, a similarly vast and magnificent creation, but in most other respects, completely different from New Crobuzon.

Armada is a pirate city, built on captured ships lashed together and inhabited by the passengers and prisoners who are taken along with the ships. No doubt about it, you're a long way from Perdido Street here.

This distance extends to the main character, who couldn't be more different from Perdido Street's loveable Isaac. Bellis Coldwine is -- as her name suggests -- both somewhat bellicose and quite cold. She is fleeing New Crobuzon, but we don't find out why until the middle of the book. Although at the beginning of the novel she is bound for Nova Esperium, a colony of New Crobuzon, the ship is kidnapped after a Crobuzoner diplomat is taken aboard. From there, we are taken to Armada and plunged headlong into a world of piracy and intrigue. Armada is ruled by demented, kinky lovers, and they have a plan that could cost the lives of everyone in the city. Not all the other powers in Armada agree with them, however, and Bellis will become a pawn in a vicious, high-stakes game, about which she knows very little. Along the way, there are many interesting characters, including Tanner Sack, a disfigured prisoner bound for hard labor, and Uther Doul, formerly of High Cromlech, a shadowy city of the dead.

What sets The Scar about from many other follow-ups is that Mieville became a noticeably better writer somewhere between this book and his last one. Although Perdido Street Station was packed with interesting characters, cool creatures and the incredible city of New Crobuzon, the style was uneven and the symbolism was not handled properly. The Scar not only has the interesting characters, cool creatures and the incredible city of Armada, it has real, original style and subtle but clever symbolism.

The novel follows several characters, both in the third person and in unexpected but enjoyable flashes of first-person narrative, creating "scars" in the narrative itself. It moves through space and time easily but never in a confusing manner. Mieville has also made the political structure of Armada much more readily understandable than New Crobuzon's ever was.

Most assuredly, The Scar marks a new direction for Mieville. So no, it's not Perdido Street Station. It's not a sequel, in that it's not necessary to have read one to enjoy the other and their only real link is the fact that they're set in the same world. It's better. I suggest that you go find yourself a copy as quickly as you can -- Armada will move with the tide.

by Theo deRoth
30 September 2006

Buy it from