Seldom do I go from loathing a book, to admitting it might not be a complete waste of paper, to grudging admiration. This is probably because I usually stop reading the book at the loathing stage. See, I can usually tell by the end of page – let’s be generous – twenty whether or not I’m going to like the book. My predictions are almost always accurate.
But Lulu, if you stop reading the book after you can tell you won’t like it, how do you know that your predictions are accurate? There have been books I have finished regardless of my dislike, for the sake of Science. I expected Iron Council by China Mieville to be one such book.
I have only finished one other book by Mr. Mieville, The City and the City, on the recommendation of www.SFSite.com’s annual “Best Read of the Year” list. The Reader’s Choice version, mind, definitely not the SFSite staff version. Make of that what you will. It’s difficult for me to enjoy Mr. Mieville’s books because of his writing style. At best, I describe it as detached, his characterization weak; and since good characters are the first thing I desire in a book that I read for enjoyment (and I ultimately only read for enjoyment, having paid my dues to coursework that requires me to read for “betterment”), I have never been able to immerse myself in Mr. Mieville’s Bas-Lag.
Thinking back on the first third of Iron Council threatens to turn this review into a rant about ugly writing, dissonant sentences, excessive use of fragments that do not elevate the style of the book, ostentatious and jarring diction that does not seem to quite fit the meaning of the sentence. The dialogue is lazy, the lines of the characters read as if the author had paraphrased what was said before committing it to print. Can I call the transitions horrible if they don’t really exist, if they weren’t really attempted? It took me two full days to read the first half of the book. It took me three weeks off and on to read volumes 1 – 13 of the Wheel of Time, just as a comparison. I was in pain.
By the second third I had resolved not to care. I was going to finish the book. The Schmoops said that if I didn’t like this China Mieville book, I was never going to like any China Mieville book. He and I usually agree on these things. I was going to accept that there were frequently going to be times when I would not know where I was or what was going on, I was going to ignore unnecessary wordiness and insufficient description both, and I was not going to argue that the word variegated really should not have been used there. I began to think that as dull and removed as I thought the narrative style was, there may be a good reason for it. What Mieville was trying to capture was the aura of legends, grandeur and depravity unremembered by textbook accounts, the rise of heroes. His style actually rendered the people and events larger than life, and lent a mystical quality to the book.
After the first third I also thought the writing became substantially better, but I may have just gotten used to it.
The most amazing thing about the book is the setting. The technology and magic in the book are difficult to describe. One page can contain more creativity than entire books from other authors. I feel that Mr. Mieville’s every dream, nightmare and hallucination, along with all the products of his considerable imagination, combined to form Bas-Lag. By the last third of the book I found that I did care about the characters, I did care about what would happen to their city, their lives, their mission. When did this happen? I have no idea. It is wondrous. At the last, at the end, at the return, I thought my heart would stop beating when theirs did.
You’ll know who I mean. And it’s really not a spoiler because you’ll never guess what happens.