As promised — because I never break a promise* — I’m going to
talk type about the inspiration for the setting of my dream the other day. (Unlike some TV shows that shall remain unnamed, the Golden Gate Bridge will not become a filler shot for my dreams.) In this book is the floating city made of ships that prompted one of the stranger dreams with recognizable people that I’ve had the pleasure to subconsciously think up.
The Scar by China Mieville is what I call an in media res sci-fi book, which means it just throws you into the middle of everything and leaves little time to sort it out. Other examples include: Dune, anything by Philip K. Dick, or even Star Wars, but that gets all of the Hero’s Journey references too, so I try to share the love. I adore this sort of literary convention because I do it to my readers all of the time. Personally, I love being confused, so trying to figure out how things worked in this universe — like, how the hell can a cactus talk? — was right up my alley. It’s the second in this world by the author — who kind of looks like if beefy Trent Reznor** and Howie Mandel had a kid — with the first being Perdido Street Station, so maybe that has more explanations, but I like to do things the hard way.
Let me just start off with saying that there are pirates in this book and seeing as how I dress up as a pirate wench for the Renaissance Festival every year, the only way this book could have gotten better was if there were vampire pirates. Oh, wait. THERE TOTALLY WERE VAMPIRES IN THIS BOOK. This happens to me every once in a while, where I start reading or watching something without vampires in it — you know, to cleanse the palate, if you will — and they just randomly appear. Like Ultraviolet or Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book.
It takes place on Armada, a floating city made of ships that the Armadan pirates have stolen. They gangplank people by capturing their vessels, assimilating them into their maritime fortress and making the passengers work without ever a chance to see home or escape. Bellis — yon
fair maiden whiny, heartless main character — has been captured by the pirates and is forced to work in the library on Armada, but soon discovers a plot that the rulers of her district — aptly called The Lovers — are unfurling, which may place all of them in danger.
The thing kind of unravels like a bunch of tarot cards, with titles being thrown here and symbolism about trying to control the world as measly humans discarded there, but what I truly loved was the originality. Bellis goes on many adventures and finds ex-prisoners and slaves who have undergone a process called Remaking that has left them genetically mutated; a bunch of ravenous mosquito women who will literally suck you dry in a matter of seconds;
an anthropomorphic lion voiced by Jeremy Irons and a fissure in the world that can be mined for Possibilities. Everything pops out of the book as fully formed ideas, a world rich with imagination that barely leaves you time to get your breath before moving onto to something just as new and wondrous.
So, you’re thinking, because I imagine that you are now ready to blow this popsicle stand and read this masterpiece. So, you think, it has creativity, an elegant writing style, and, most importantly, bloodsuckers. Why isn’t this the best book ever?
Well, I respond, because I’m more critical than Michael Bay when he’s choosing between Victoria’s Secret models, there are still many, many things wrong. The dialogue is so-so, and I’m a dialogue chick. I love me some artsy and witty talkin’. The way people talk should inherently be different from the narrative parts, and I found myself enjoying the spectacular and descriptive narration, before cringing whenever someone opened his mouth. One character in particular — a ninja-like badass who may or may not hunt vampires (boo! hiss!) — is supposed to speak like Shakespeare with a Cyrano de Bergerac chaser, but just sounds as awkward as anyone else.
I also hated Bellis. She was rather annoying and incapable of feeling any emotion other than remorse, guilt, or longing. Her last name is Coldwine, obviously meant to evoke her coldness towards other characters, but I couldn’t sympathize with her. It was like reading Anna Karenina for me, meaning that halfway through that book, I couldn’t care less if everyone got their faces eaten off by bunny rabbits. In fact, that would have made that book so much better.
I won’t give away the end, but it suffers from a serious case of show-don’t-tell-ism, which left it ending on a rather flat note.
However, the book was spectacular, despite most of its flaws, and I will be reading Mr. Mieville again, though it’d be sooner if he wore a fedora. I still highly recommend this book, and I’m picky, so it may be your slice of 3.14159.
*Except that one time in Mexico with the noodles…but I don’t want to talk about it.
**As compared to Snape-looking Trent Reznor.