the Little Red Reviewer

The Scar, by China Mieville

Posted on: March 28, 2010

This review was originally published on Worm’s Sci Fi Haven

Not a sequel to Mieville’s Perdido Street Station, The Scar is part action, part mangled romance, part alien magical steampunk dream sequence. As usual, Mieville peppers the narrative with stunning imagery that is equally grotesque yet full of a natural and violent beauty.

I think you’ve got to be a fan of certain types of fiction and styles of prose to enjoy The Scar. There are very few (if any) likeable characters, and no good guys or bad guys, no certainties, no promises of a happy ending, or really any kind of ending. Mieville’s style of prose is the kind that works hand in hand with your imagination. If you’re not willing to partner with it and accept the bizarre as normal, you may not enjoy yourself.

A resident of the doomed city of New Crobuzon, Bellis knows the police will be at her door any day due to her relationship with Issac Dan der Grimnebulin (of Perdido Street Station infamy). She gets herself hired as a translator on a merchant ship, but the ship is soon attacked by pirates. Along with the rest of passengers and slaves on board, Bellis is taken to the floating pirate city of Armada, where she is set up with a job and a roof over her head, and the slaves are set free-ish. The rulers of Armada, known only as “The Lovers”, are inseperable, masochistic, and have a un-piratic plan that involves stealing a floating oil rig, calling up a mystical creature from the depths, and visiting the scar at the end of the world. In utter denial of what’s going on around her, Bellis get caught in a manipulative love triangle between an officer and a dissenter, both of which could get her imprisoned, or killed.

Determined to get off Armada and travel either back to New Crobuzon, or the colony of Nova Esperium, Bellis will do anything to reach her goals. As formal as her education may be, Bellis hasn’t a clue about how things work in the real world, about how people get what they want. By the time she realizes her determination has blinded her to the manipulation going on all around her, she may have doomed her new home and everyone living on board and it’s  far too late for a simple I’m sorry.

Coming off as pathetic and introverted, the vanilla of Bellis’s personality stands out all the more against the other residents of the city. In her bid to “return to civilization”, she has her choice of possible allies: Tanner Sack,  a former slave who voluntarily has himself “re-made” in a nightmarish surgical operation to become even more amphibious, Silas Finnec who knows too much and showers Bellis with flattery and gifts of information, Uther Doul the captain of the guard who is always armed with his Might-sword and who wants to be friends with Bellis but doesn’t know how, the unnamed Lovers who emerge pink and satisfied each morning with matching scars and new bleeding wounds, and a collection of other sad freaks with their own agendas.

Armada is always moving, never anchored, but somehow its roaming pirate ships always find their way home. With the help of a semi-organic talisman and an iron gag reflex, Silas Finnec infiltrates Armada’s compass factory and steals a lodestone. Hiding the lodestone in the false bottom of a box, he convinces Bellis the box contains the details of dangerous foreigners who are planning an invasion of New Crobuzon. On an excursion to the Island of Mosquito People, Bellis convinces Tanner to bribe the captain of another ship that the invasion information must make it to New Crobuzon. It’s safe, since no one needs to know anything about Armada to save New Crobuzon.

Meanwhile, the Lovers have been successful in using their stolen floating oil rig to find the right sinkhole and raise an Avanc, a mystical sea creature of another dimension which once bridled pulls Armada along at an alarming rate. The Lovers are reticent to share their plan, only telling the residents of the city they are travelling north to The Scar in the earth, a canyon so deep it once threatened to crack the earth. A city of pirates, there are grumblings of mutiny, as going somewhere “just to go”, isn’t much pirate fun. The Lovers must have more of a plan, and it involves Uther Doul and his Possibility Sword, a weapon able to be anywhere possible at anytime. What other possibilities can they bring up from the depths, or from the edge of the scar?

You’ll never notice the decision you make while reading this book: are you as normal and grounded as Bellis? Or will your imagination take you to perverse and depraved places you didn’t plan on going? But you will make the decision, and will find that normal is boring. You will be seduced by the fascination of creatures you recently viewed as perverse, you will want to know what it’s like to have tentacles and webbed feet, to rule or be ruled by blood tax, to see the edge of world, to mine the possibilities of what might be.

A slow awkward beginning comprised mostly of Bellis’s journal entries, and a flustered yet equally awkward ending, The Scar is still an excellent example of “New Weird”, and will have you biting your fingernails down to the quick. It’s not the characters that Mieville wows you with, it’s the passionate, disgusting, violent and obsessive things they do without a second thought. As the story is mostly told from Bellis’s point of view, the readers curiousity about people and situations is never sated, because there are plenty of secrets never exposed. By keeping motivations vague and secrets kept, Mieville allows the readers imagination to fill in the more gruesome details as your passionate, violent and obsessive mind might choose to.

If you are reading this article and thinking “what kind of drugs is this author on??”, this might not be the book for you. However, if you enjoy falling into a dark fantastical world of deception, human experiments, and deadly ocean creatures, you will highly enjoy what The Scar has to offer.

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5 Responses to "The Scar, by China Mieville"

I want to read this. I liked his YA novel, Un Lun Dun, and though I was “meh” about Kraken, I really want to like Mieville. The premises of his stories all sound interesting, and I figure if I can hang with Joseph Heller and Kurt Veonnegut’s writing, I should be able to read Mieville’s weirdness. Right?

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Un Lun Dun was great! I’ve been hemming and hawing about Kraken, it looks good, but so did The City and The City. If you can hack the Vonnegut, I think you’ll dig the Mieville. He’s got his “In the World of Bas Lag” stuff, and his everything else stuff. The Bas Lag stuff is Perdido Street Station, The Scar, and Iron Council.

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[…] Orphan hasn’t got much to live for, and just the teensiest bit similar to Bellis Coldwine in The Scar, Orphan doesn’t really care what the consequences are, so long as he is continually working […]

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I loved The Scar and Perdido Street Station because no-one else writes in such beautiful English these days. The weird fertility of his imagination is an added bonus.

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> Mieville’s style of prose is the kind that works hand in hand with your imagination. If you’re not willing to partner with it and accept the bizarre as normal, you may not enjoy yourself.

That’s about the best description of the author’s storytelling I’ve read.

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