as far as i can tell, china mieville has a big, big world inside his head.
this book is set in one city. just the one. there’s pretty much no outside involvement, unless you count the place where yagharek comes from, and that’s only really mentioned. but this city is huge. it’s truly massive. there’s the ribs, and the university district, and the place where all the hipster bug-people live, and perdido street station itself, and a thousand other things, plenty of which i probably didn’t even pick up on. the city is dark and dingy and murky and yet has this magical, alluring something about it. imagine a place with cactus people, and humans with bugs for heads, called khepri, and people made out of water, and regular humans, all together, all struggling for something…
i can’t even begin to describe what this book is about without ruining it entirely. i’ve seen some reviews describe the plot as “meandering” and i just can’t agree. i was gripped from the very first moment, first by a sense of apprehension, then foreboding, then outright dread. in its essentials, the book follows a scientist, a man named Isaac dan der Grimnebulin, who conducts his research in a dingy set of rooms in the university district. one day, a garuda - essentially a humanoid bird - comes to him, asking for help. this garuda has been stripped of his wings, and wants to find a way to fly, truly fly. isaac has his own problems: his girlfriend is a khepri, AND an artist, and their relationship is becoming a little strained.
i loved the characters in this book. i loved all of them, even the horrible ones. mieville has this way of humanising characters that you wouldn’t imagine it would be possible to humanise. i find it difficult to connect to a book if there’s nothing i can relate to about any of the characters - whether it be in their characters themselves, or the things they represent (see brideshead revisited for a good example of the latter). where characters lack a human aspect it rarely works. look at spock, or k-pax, or the iron giant. they work because they’re humanised in the very best sense of the word, despite not being human themselves. they’re given an empathetic quality. mieville achieves this in spades, particularly with the garuda and the khepri. again, it’s hard to describe without spoiling the book, but the arcs of lin, isaac, and yagharek were dark, and addictive, and excellent.
the crown of mieville’s achievement with this book, though, are the words themselves. as is probably reasonably obvious, i’m a sucker for beautiful prose. what makes a book really shine for me are the words in themselves, the way they’re put together. it’s a little bit like music and a little bit like alchemy. again, this isn’t to everyone’s taste, but mieville’s extensive vocabulary makes this novel into a creature of beauty. the writing is somewhat lyrical and always magical.
if i’m not coherent, it’s because i’m a little bit in love.
the reason i have tried so hard to avoid spoilers is because i want everyone to read this book. okay, not everyone is going to like it. it isn’t for everyone. but it deserves tried. and i’m pretty sure some of the rest of you will fall in love like i did!