China Miéville, The Scar (Pan Macmillan UK, 2002; Del Rey US, 2002)
China Miéville is one of those authors that leaves you feeling exhilarated and envious at the same time. At only thirty years old, he has managed to graduate from Cambridge, complete a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics, voice his socialist views in local politics, and write three astounding works of literature. He has been compared to M. John Harrison and Mervyn Peake (both of whom he credits as influences), and has very specific views on the state of fantasy literature. Not to mention, he looks cool in black leather.
The Scar is set in the same post-industrial society as his previous novel, Perdido Street Station, the harsh and oft-times unforgiving world of Bas-Lag. This is a world very much like our own, but one where science and thaumaturgy are utilized side by side, one where a multitude of species coexist, one where genetic and mechanical body modification is possible. Steam engines abound in trains and ships, and if you want to travel by air, you'll have to take a dirigible. Think of England in the 1800s, after the Industrial Revolution, and add upon that.
There is a vast history to Bas-Lag, and Miéville has skimmed but the very top in his secondary-world novels. But where Perdido was restricted to the monstrous city of New Crobuzon, The Scar takes us out into Bas-Lag's Swollen Ocean, to the massive ship-city of Armada.
Bellis Coldwine, a talented and published linguist, is forced to flee from New Crobuzon because of her past relationship with Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, and the events he helped to shape in Perdido. Booking a working passage on a ship to the colony of Nova Esperium, she is inadvertently press-ganged (read: kidnaped) by pirates from Armada. She is put to work in the enormous library of stolen books at Armada's heart, and comes to discover a dark conspiracy involving The Lovers (the rulers of Armada), Uther Doul (the pirate in charge of press-ganging Bellis's ship), and the raising of the avanc (an immense creature from the depths of the Swollen Ocean).
Miéville has publicly lamented the fact that US reviewers and blurb writers often give too much away in his novels, so I will respect that statement and stop where I have. But there is so much more to The Scar. A new menagerie of creatures is presented here, including mosquito-people, vampir, llorgis and grindylow, in addition to his established khepri, cactacae, and Remade. He has added to the already lush environment created in Perdido, expanding the scope of Bas-Lag to the far reaches of the world.
Miéville's prose has never been tighter or more mellifluous, nor his characters more memorable. This is without a doubt one of the finest works in 21st century literature, and I hope it wins every award imaginable.
[Jason Erik Lundberg]