Embassytown by China Mieville

(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.

Review by

1 positive reader review(s) for Embassytown


Embassytown reader reviews

from Newcastle

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

Write a reader review

Your rating out of 10

More China Mieville reviews

The City and the City

by China Mieville

When the body of a murdered woman is found in the extraordinary, decaying city of Besźel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks like a routine case for Inspector Tyado [...]

Published: 2009

Score: 94

Our rating: 9.2 | 2 positive reader reviews



by China Mieville

Deep in the research wing of the Natural History Museum is a prize specimen, something that comes along much less often than once in a lifetime: a perfect, and perfectly pr [...]

Published: 0000

Score: 85

Our rating: 8.5 | 0 positive reader reviews



by China Mieville

On board the moletrain Medes, Sham Yes ap Soorap watches in awe as he witnesses his first moldywarpe hunt: the giant mole bursting from the earth, the harpoonists targeting [...]

Published: 2012

Score: 92

Our rating: 9.2 | 0 positive reader reviews


Perdido Street Station

by China Mieville

The metropolis of New Crobuzon sprawls at the centre of its own bewildering world. Humans and mutants and arcane races throng the gloom beneath its chimneys, where the rive [...]

Published: 2000

Score: 102

Our rating: 9.8 | 4 positive reader reviews


The Scar

by China Mieville

A colossal fantasy of incredible diversity and spellbinding imagination. A human cargo bound for servitude in exile... A pirate city hauled across the oceans... A hidden mi [...]

Published: 2002

Score: 93

Our rating: 9.2 | 1 positive reader reviews


Iron Council

by China Mieville

It is a time of revolts and revolutions, conflict and intrigue. New Crobuzon is being ripped apart from without and within. War with the shadowy city-state of Tesh and riot [...]

Published: 2004

Score: 91

Our rating: 9.0 | 1 positive reader reviews


Books you may also enjoy

Rendezvous With Rama

by Arthur C Clarke

All’s quiet for many years, with humankind tracking thousands of asteroids and expanding its reach with colonies established on other planets and moons, until in 2130 [...]

Published: 1973

Score: 101

Our rating: 10.0 | 1 positive reader reviews


The Martian

by Andy Weir

I’m stranded on Mars. I have no way to communicate with Earth. I’m in a Habitat designed to last 31 days. If the Oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. I [...]

Published: 2011

Score: 99

Our rating: 9.8 | 1 positive reader reviews



by Frank Herbert

The Duke of Atreides has been manoeuvred by his arch-enemy, Baron Harkonnen, into administering the desert planet of Dune. Although it is almost completely without water, D [...]

Published: 1965

Score: 100

Our rating: 9.4 | 6 positive reader reviews


Stark's Crusade

by John G Hemry

The last surviving superpower on Earth, the USA, is fighting a war to conquer the moon and obtain its riches. However, the American military has its own battles to fight be [...]

Published: 2002

Score: 90

Our rating: 9.0 | 0 positive reader reviews