the Little Red Reviewer

Re-reading Iron Council, by China Mieville

Posted on: July 8, 2018

Iron Council by China Mieville

published in 2004

where I got it – who remembers? this book has been on my shelf for probably 10 years.

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I’ve not read much of China Mieville’s newer books, but I went nuts for his Bas-Lag books – Perdido Street Station, Iron Council, and The Scar. Embassytown, having nothing at all to do with those books, falls in the same category of new weird/weird AF.  The Scar has been on my “all time favorite scifi novels” list since I read the first chapter.

 

After ten years, it’s time to revisit.  Let’s start with Iron Council. What do I remember about this book?  Something about a rebellion, a train, a city that’s lost track of itself, lots of reMade, some reMade lady who is human down to her thighs and is a coal engine below and she has a younger boyfriend? Maybe?

 

Oh, the reMade?  Yeah, so, there isn’t exactly prisons in this world. If you break the law (or piss off a rich person), instead of going to prison or a work camp or getting the firing squad, you get reMade in the punishment factories. Maybe you come out of there with a horse’s body, or fish scales covering your eyes or mouth, or guns instead of arms. Maybe you come out of there with a child grafted on to your back, or your face, or your feet switched with your hands. Maybe you’re not even recognized as something that was once human when you come out of there. But you can still work, right?

 

New Crobuzon is a bustling city, filled with industry, thaumaturgy, hedge magic, people just trying to make a living .  There are rail lines within the city, but out in the wild lands? No easy way to get anywhere. A wealthy businessman incorporates, creates a railroad that’s going to go as far as it can. This is how New Crobuzon will make it’s name across the continent!  (there’s a much bigger conversation here about what a railroad does when it goes through land. Who it helps, who it hurts, who benefits from it and who doesn’t, the human cost of the whole thing)

 

The further the railroad gets from home, the long the cash train takes to get there, the more weeks and months between when people get paid.  The prostitutes were the first to strike, because they were sick of fucking on credit. When they stopped taking customers who had no cash, the rail workers striked, refusing to work another minute without pay, because no pay means no fucking. Even the reMade, who were technically slaves of the corporation, went on strike. The strikers took over the train, and fled into the wilderness, and took the train and the tracks with them.   The strikers? Yeah, they the ones who know how to lay track, grade land, build bridges and blast tunners. The train was theirs now. The Iron Council was born out of a sex strike.

Into the wilds they went, laying track ahead, and ripping up was behind. They learned how to be a people, how to be a tribe, how to survive. Calling themselves the Iron Council, they view each other as equals, as councillors.   Their goal is to get so far away that New Crobuzon forgets about them.

 

Twenty some years later, New Crobuzon is on the losing side of a war with an enemy they don’t understand, the people are rioting, and Iron Council has become an urban myth.  Judah Low, whose history will make you cry, sets out from New Crobuzon with some followers, a whispersmith, and a sorcerer who trades memories for knowledge, to find the Iron Council and beg them to come home and save the city from it’s corrupt leaders.

 

China Mieville does worldbuilding like no other. His cities are exploding with practical magic, bug-people, cactus-people, constructs, and reMade of every shape, and every species has a culture and goals all their own.   Like a hug from a cactus-man, Mieville’s raw and unrelenting prose leaves its marks in you. Iron Council overflows with incredible characters, tiny scenes that are epic stories unto themselves, and all the millions of moments that create a living breathing world.

 

The sorcerer who trades memories for knowledge, and is willing to forget who they are to help the cause? Yes, give me more of that!  All of Judah’s weird golems, because no one ever told him “dude. You can’t make a golem out of air, everyone knows that”. Yes, more of those!  The Cacotopic Stain, whatever the hell that is? I’ll take some more of that please! Parasitic hands that turn you into a zombie, a mobile city, aquatic races, thaumaturgy, cactus-people, garudas, mind control, it’s all waiting for you in Iron Council.

 

Iron Council is one fantastic idea after another, one gorgeous scene after another, but the scenes and disparate story lines  don’t connect to others as well as they could, the characters who broke my heart had story lines that often fizzled out. Unfortunately, this makes Iron Council read like a fix up novel.  That scene where Toro has a conversation with the Mayor? That scene just about killed me. And then it ticked me off because Toro’s storyline felt completely disconnected to everything else that was going on, that gorgeous heart wrenching scene felt unnecessary.  Judah’s time spent with the swamp people, and how he records their songs? I was nearly crying. What he learns in his time there is important (really, really important, actually!), but the rest of his early years with the railroad company seem to just fizzle away.  I get that his experience shaped him as a person, but would it have killed him to share that with Ann-Hari or Cutter? And don’t even get me started on when all the puzzle pieces start to come together, and they figure out who the spy is!

 

Uggh, Cutter. I really couldn’t stand him.  Everytime one of his chapters came along I couldn’t wait for it to end.   If I was really lucky, the next chapter would be a Judah chapter or a Toro/Ori/Spiral chapter. (And now that I think about it, is Bellis the Cutter of The Scar? Annoying but necessary for the final climactic scene?)

 

Iron Council was a slog for me.    So many good and crazy ideas! So much awesome new weird and sci-fantasy!  It does all come together at the end, but wow, what a draggy journey it was to get there.  I feel terrible dissing on this book, because there really was a lot of awesome bits and pieces  in it.

 

And that reMade lady whose bottom half is a coal engine? Yeah, not in this book at all. Hmmm… she’s def a Mieville reMade, maybe she’s in The Scar?  I’ll find out soon, since that’s the next book I’m planning to read!

 

Have you read any of China Mieville’s Bas-Lag books? What did you think of them?

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8 Responses to "Re-reading Iron Council, by China Mieville"

It has been years since I’ve read this one too, and though a lot of the details escape me now, I do remember having a similar reaction as you describe here. So many incredible ideas but a bit of a slog for all that. Really it was the off the wall ideas that carried me through and kept me excited but it’s def no Perdido St Station. God I love that book.

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yes! so many off the wall ideas, and they all worked in the world. Everything felt like “yes, this sounds completely natural in this world”. it has been forever since I read Perdido, probably 10 years or more?

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I remember this as my favourite Bas-Lag book, although I’ve never reread it and first read it when it was published. A reread might change my opinion.

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I hope I didn’t wreck this book for you. 😦 You maybe had a similar experience that nikki and I had? where the huge quantity of incredible ideas and great worldbuilding made up for the weird pacing?

the problem with rereading Iron Council (and rereading anything, I guess), is that I know how it ends. I’m not super invested in the tension or cliffhangers, so now I have time to pay attention to everything else, and unfortunately that led to excessive nitpicking.

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I read Perdido Street Station a long time ago and loved it. I really need to pick up another Mieville book (maybe Perdido Street Station again before this one, though, after your review!).

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aahhhh!!!! you read Perdido and then never read another Mieville? if you want weird AF fantasy, go for Perdido again, or The Scar, or Iron Council. if you want weird AF scifi, go for Embassytown. if you want weird AF contemporary, go for The City and The City. he’s got a bunch of newer stuff, but I’ve not gotten to any of it yet.

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“And that reMade lady whose bottom half is a coal engine? Yeah, not in this book at all. Hmmm… she’s def a Mieville reMade, maybe she’s in The Scar? I’ll find out soon, since that’s the next book I’m planning to read!”

I’m two days of reading into The Scar, and Yup! She’s in The Scar!

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Yeah, Mieville rocks!! Perdido Street Station blew me away – everything about it was perfect! I also really enjoyed The Kraken, which is Mieville-does-urban-fantasy-ish. I’ve not yet read the other Bas-Lag books, although The Scar is on my library pile as we speak and now you’ve made me hungry for more Mieville … 😀

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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