Perdido Street Station by China Mieville (New Crobuzon: Book 1)

I began reading Perdido Street Station firstly as a break from sci-fi and secondly because it sounded vaguely interesting. I finished reading Perdido Street Station (a surprisingly short time later given how long the book is)finding it to be one of the greatest, strangest and most utterly awesome things I've read for a considerable while. I have tried to recommend it to my friends and my explanation of what the book is about sort of goes like this:

"Well, it's set in a city called New Krobuzon where there are humans, but other races like Cactus people and Frog people who craft water- as well as steam-powered robots and cyborgs, though there are also magicians and scientists. The story is about a scientist who is asked to help a crippled bird man fly again but by accident releases a plague of trans-dimensional moths onto the city that eat people's minds. Oh, and the scientist is involved with a woman who's head is a scarab beetle and who makes sculptures out of her own spit!"
At this point, my friends usually respond with "whaaaa?" and honestly I can't blame them.

There really is no way to adequately explain either the setting or the plot of Perdido Street Station without making it sound like a bad acid trip and in the hands of a less accomplished author this is undoubtedly how it would've appeared, a far too blatant attempt to be weird for the sake of weird without trying to actually tell a coherent story.

Mieville however not only manages to make the entirely unique world and seemingly nonsensical plot hang together incredibly well, but also tell it with a beauty, a dark, poignant sense of humour  and a descriptive atmospheric style that is nothing short of brilliant.

At the beginning of the book Mieville cites Mervin Peake as an author who has influenced him, and from his gorgeous rhythm to his artistic flair for language and description this is obvious. Like the crumbling castle of Gormenghast, the huge sprawling city of New Krobuzon is a constant presence in the book, and we're continually being introduced to new sights, new districts and new cultures in this gritty metropolis, all depicted with a grotesque and amazing form of poetry that is as compelling as it is distinctive. The riches of the corrupt parliament and their machinations, to the bohemian quarter of artists, to a weird university full of students and prejudice, to racial ghettos, various sorts of squalor and degradation, all are picked out beautifully and more than frequently horrifically.

Often I found myself needing to stop reading, overcome by emotions ranging from horror to disgust to pity to shear fascination with the strange beauty just at descriptive passages alone.

Unlike Peake however, Mieville's work is far more than just a set of word paintings in a colourful location distantly connected with a plot, since Mieville's characters are complex, three dimensional and all the more real.

I personally didn't find any trouble following the story, albeit that it is definitely a stranger one than you would expect. The principle character (or at least the one we spend most time with) is Isaac, a middle-aged and somewhat neurotic discredited scientist.

From his fascination with problem solving to his helplessness when things go severely wrong, I found Isaac both likeable and in some cases mildly frustrating, but no different to people I know in reality. One of the highpoints for me was Isaac's relationship with the Kepri sculptor Lin.

I find that I care most about romantic relationships in books when I sympathize with the characters involved. This doesn't mean having both parties be young and beautiful and spout big emotional lines (or even be opposing gender), but both have a motivation I can feel and empathize with, and genuinely gain something from being together.

Isaac, for all his neurotic focus on problems and his quite realistic fear of what others may think of a cross species relationship is a fundamentally decent minded person who at least tries to do the right thing for others. Lin is a gentle artist at variants with her own culture and yet trying to make an identity for herself and in her own way can be equally self-obsessed (the way both Isaac and Lin understand the other's need for space is really quite adorable). Despite the alien world and in the case of Lin the extremely alien species, I found both characters believable, and if you told me that before the end of the book I'd find myself literally reduced to tears by a romance which included a fat middle aged scientist and a woman who is part insect I'd have wondered what you were smoking, but I can't deny this actually happened.

Though we spend most of our time with Isaac, or Lin, frequently Mieville gives us other character perspectives, or just generalized views of New Krobuzon as well, yet nowhere did any of this feel ill-fitting or out of place. I loved that Mieville did not feel that he needed to always be focusing absolutely on building up the events of his plot and freely takes the odd detour just to show how certain events occur as they do or give another aspect on New Krobuzon. Indeed, much like one of my other favourite books, William Horwood's Duncton Found, I loved how Perdido Street Station was a book that needed to be appreciated holistically, that all elements from artistry to plot to dialogue contributed to the full impression rather than just being scattered parts put together.

I also confess I disagree with Ryan Lawler on the profanity, both in some descriptive passages and in characters' own speech, since Mieville uses profanity the same way he uses all aspects of language, to emphasise certain qualities or aspects of the city or give some characters a more realistic turn of phrase.

This can be seen perfectly in the name of the drug dream sh*t, which is both descriptive and explanatory and in many senses artistic as regards its actual affect.

There is no other way of saying it; Perdido Street Station is a work of art! At times horrific, beautiful, tragic, comic or even uplifting, with a plot which takes unexpected turns and twists and revelations, one of the most unique settings imaginable and above all a style of dark poetry that is truly exceptional. Needless to say, I'll be seeking out other books by Mieville in short order, and I definitely will be returning to Perdido Street Station in the future.

Odd though it is, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
Dark, 10/10

Perdido Street Station is the first book in China Mieville's New Crobuzon series, published by Macmillian in 2000. The book is set in the world of Bas-Lag, a fantasy world full of weird and wonderful creatures and environments unlike anything I have ever read about before. This book is quite large and Mieville has a habit of continously introducing new information and concepts all the way through to the end of the book, making it a very daunting challenge. However, it is very easy to become immersed in his world and in the end all of the information and loose ends are drawn together for one of the most satisfying conclusions to a book I have read in recent memory.
Ryan Lawler, 9.6/10

While this book is part of a series, Perdido Street Station is essentially a standalone novel made up from a collection of short stories that are woven into one central story. The central story revolves around Isaac, a neurotic scientist who is trying to manufacture a new set of wings for a Garuda (a bird-like man) whose wings had been ripped off as punishment for committing an unspeakable crime. Conducting his research by obtaining as many specimens of flying creatures as possible, Isaac unwittingly sets in motion a sequence of events that unleashes a bunch of monstrous Slake Moths. These creatures terrorise the city of New Crobuzon, leaving their victims completely catatonic by feeding on their subconscious mind, and will continue to do so unless Isaac can figure out a way to stop them.

This is a very busy novel, there are so many different stories in motion and it feels like something new happens every time you turn the page. While on the whole this flood of information is handled exceptionally well, usually leading to some breathtaking action sequences, it can sometimes be very hard to keep up with. As a result I found myself focusing almost exclusively on the main story, caring less and less about subplots that seemed to have nothing to do with the central story to the point where I was disregarding a lot of information, not knowing that it would become very important later in the story.

Perdido Street Station is a well written and absorbing story aimed at breaking the rules for a number of different fantasy concepts. There are some minor issues regarding information overload and the use of profanities which can quickly remove the sense of immersion, but these are easily overcome by the beauty and creativity of the world that Mieville has created. Perdido Street Station is a very intricate and complex novel that provides a refreshing challenge to the way in which epic fantasy is traditionally explored.

10/10 An intricate, complex novel that provides a refreshing challenge to the fantasy genre.

Reviews by and Ryan Lawler

5 positive reader review(s) for Perdido Street Station

7 positive reader review(s) in total for the New Crobuzon series

China Mieville biography

Perdido Street Station reader reviews

from UK

I've read thousands of books of all genres but this is the only one I've read three times. This was the first Mieville book I read although I've now read all of his. The first page enthralls you. The quality of the writing is outstanding and astounding. His imagination and scope are incredible. At the same time he incorporates the worst elements of political systems and, indeed, of humanity, repression, exploitation, greed. The plot is expansive and the characters well rounded. His descriptive writing fires the imagination. Of the Bas-Lag trilogy this, I think, is the best but I do eagerly await everything that he writes.
10/10 ()

from UK

One of the most extraordinary books I have enjoyed, richly imaginative, brilliantly realized and well written. I am a big fan of Mieville, and this is one of his best, but also one of the worst, because all that brilliance is let down - literally betrayed, by its ending. In the novel Mieville explores so many complex layers and nuances of society with such depth and sophistication, his descriptions of the biological impulses of the slake moths utterly genius. So why did he end the novel, topple its entire magnificent edifice, with some trite moralistic justification for what must be the most devastating betrayal of a key character - and, indeed, of the reader he carries so far?
8/10 ()

from France

Abounding, odd and surprising, this is a baroque and sophisticated adventure, heavy with political and social meanings. As demanding as it is rewarding (stay close to the dictionary), sometimes funny, often dark and subversive... Definitly gripping.
9/10 ()

Great book! Captivating, dark and really imaginative. A wonderful change in a world full of plain standard fantasy.
10/10 ()

from Bridgend

Brilliant author with an incredible imagination.....
9/10 ()

9.3/10 from 6 reviews

All China Mieville Reviews