Embassytown by China Mieville

Rating 8.5/10
Mieville is far too good to be pigeonholed.

China Mieville has always been a difficult author to pigeonhole. His bizarre, intelligent novels have never fitted into easy categories. They range from the vast, sprawling, fantasy driven Bas-Lag trilogy, to existential crime thriller The City and The City, and just about everything in between. He has never been a true hard science fiction writer, (the three Arthur C. Clarke awards aside), he hasn’t written about ray guns, spaceships and civilizations on far-flung planets. Until now that is and the release of his new novel Embassytown.

Set on a planet on the edge of the known universe, we follow Avice Banner Cho, an immerser, a traveller on the sea of the space, the Immer. Avice left her home city of Embassytown long ago for a life of travelling the universe but events have brought her home. She is somewhat of a minor celebrity amongst the humans of Embassytown, a girl who escaped their forgotten backwater and explored the cosmos.

Living amongst the human populace are the indigenous Hosts, a truly alien presence who only the chosen Ambassadors can communicate with. The Hosts have a unique language and cannot lie. When a new Ambassador arrives from the distant empire that ultimately controls Embassytown, the calm and balance that has lasted for centuries is thrown into crisis and Avice must find some way to communicate with the Hosts before all is lost.

The Hosts are a wonderful creation, enigmatically alien and outlandish. Their unique language really fuels the themes of the story and ultimately it is a book about language. About the power of words and how we convey meaning, how words can become (literally) intoxicating and what value a simple lie can be. The Hosts have to experience language before they can use it, for example as a young girl Avice was chosen to become a simile. Amongst the hosts she is known as, rather unpleasantly, the girl who ate what was given to her.

Avice herself is a reliable narrator, tough and streetwise. She glides through the story at first, revelling in her off world fame and her Immerser talents but as the crisis on Embassytown deepens Avice realises that she must play a significant part in what is to follow. She is supported by a rich tapestry of background characters, from her delusional, scholarly husband Scile, to the wise but downtrodden and crippled Ambassador Bren. The Hosts are well constructed and their culture feels alive and well thought out.

This is by no means an easy read. While never plodding the plot does sometimes feel a little bit sticky and Mieville spends a long portion of the novel explaining Avice’s back story, while it is important to the overall piece you are left at times hoping for a little bit more action. If you are new to the works of China Mieville this novel is probably not the best place to start, Kraken is on the whole more accessible and The City and The City more familiar but if you are already a Mieville convert then you won’t be disappointed.

China Mieville is one the of most unique and exciting authors writing in any genre at the moment, I would not be surprised if Embassytown doesn’t bag him another bagful of awards next year. With the release of Embassytown Pan Macmillan have decided to repackage all of his former novels and try to make him into some kind of brand, this is wholly unnecessary. Mieville is far too good to be pigeonholed.

This Embassytown book review was written by

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Embassytown reader reviews

from Newcastle

9-stars

I'm about halfway through this book and I'm very much in agreement with Charlie. This is an amazing, exciting, refreshing take on the Sci-Fi genre, one that all Mieville fans will love. It is a hugely complex undertaking for any reader, be prepared to be challenged on the foundations of communication, diversity, and diplomacy. If you are new to Mieville, I recommend you start with Kraken, followed by Perdido Street Station, because if you can get through those two then you will love Embassytown.

8.8/10 from 2 reviews

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