I’ve never read any books by China Miéville, having only come across Perdido Street Station because I had been on the prawl for cyberpunk books at the time. For some reason, this Steampunk book made its way into one of the cyberpunk lists. Into my TBR it went, all but forgotten until I’d come across the physical copy at Barnes & Nobles. It’d been one of those quick, “Alright, you got about 10-15 minutes” days where the bookstore was just one tiny stop in an errand filled day. I wasn’t about to leave the store empty handed and I always have a little thing with “it’s fate” if I come across a book more than once.
It remained unread until I’d gone and yanked a couple of books off my shelf and had IG/Twitter poll my next read for me. I spent two slow weeks with this guy, and it was a nightmarish kind of floaty feeling. I still have a book hangover. Fun little note; Perdido Street Station managed to worm itself into my dreams (nightmares?) twice!
Book Title: Perdido Street Station
Author: China Miéville
Length: 710 Pages
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Science Fiction > Steampunk, Urban Fantasy, Horror, New Weird
CW/TW: Violence, gore, murder, mentions of rape, kidnapping, hostage situation, medical experimentation, mentions of torture, forced medical procedures, racism (mostly to Xenians and the Khepri), prostitution, sexual abuse of minors, police brutality
Beneath the towering bleached ribs of a dead, ancient beast lies the city of New Crobuzon, where the unsavory deal is stranger to no one–not even to Isaac, a gifted and eccentric scientist who has spent a lifetime quietly carrying out his unique research. But when a half-bird, half-human creature known as the Garuda comes to him from afar, Isaac is faced with challenges he has never before encountered. Though the Garuda’s request is scientifically daunting, Isaac is sparked by his own curiosity and an uncanny reverence for this curious stranger. Soon an eerie metamorphosis will occur that will permeate every fiber of New Crobuzon–and not even the Ambassador of Hell will challenge the malignant terror it evokes.
Having never read any of the author’s other books before, Perdido Street Station was an excellent entry into his world. Brimming with amazing and detailed description, I found myself easily lost in the Bas-Lag world. Beautifully painted to see every scene and creature that this world and the city of New Crobuzon has to offer, China’s writing is phenomenal and his world-building no less so. In this story, we follow a rogue scientist as he attempts to help a client regain his abilities to fly again, but little does he know, this experiment of his will cost him immensely; no bag of gold could replace and repair the damages and losses that follow suit. After all, we’re fighting something that even the demons of hell refuses to fight.
Out of everything in this book, including pacing, readability, plot, characters, and so on, I think Miéville’s writing and world-building are the two things that stick out the most. It’s one of the best things about Perdido Street Station and while it was kind of dense, making it a little hard to get into the book, I’ll admit that these two points (world and writing) were also what kept me reading. It just…felt like every other page, I was grabbing at my phone to search up a definition for all of his, what I call, “great thesaurus words” (less so towards the end). I even ended up borrowing the e-book version from the library so that I could keep up with my rate of searching things up!
Don’t get me started on the parts when a musing and inspired/obsessed Isaac begins to ramble in science and mathematics. He completely lost me there (rereading the passage for the third time did NOT help).
Yet, it feels like, considering the setting and the world, it also felt wrong if I were to not see words like expostulated, susurration, or ululated, as if it completes the sentence and scene just right. You could easily skip those words, you wouldn’t miss a lot nor does it stop you from moving on in the plot/book, but it does feel like you might not see the full splendid scene unless you look it up either.
In the end, yes, his prose, writing, and choice of words is wild but weirdly amazing. I found myself charmed by his sentences the very moment I’d gone and opened the book. His writing is one of my favorite parts about the book. However, as with a really heavy meal, it’s pretty dense, rich, and savory. I probably wouldn’t be able to read a Miéville book back to back (if they’re all like this), but I’m happily going to add him to my list of auto-buy authors.
Extraordinary, exquisite, OMG-I-Could-Cry amazing, and utterly imaginative in the weirdest sense. For me, his world-building, the world of Bas-Lag, and the way he described New Crobuzon was the best part about this book, even more so than how much I loved his writing. I could write an essay just about New Crobuzon. For all of the 710 pages, it felt like I lived each character’s life through their six senses. I breathed that foul and retched air, I felt the anger of having to live in fear of the magistrate’s brutal and sadistic punishments, I felt the pain of torturous and prolonged agonizing deaths of characters.
New Crobuzon felt like an inescapable hellscape, but so full of life, people working and living to the best of their ability. I could see what each place, each slum, and even what the sewers felt like. As the story moved on, I could picture myself looking up into the skies and seeing the dirigibles and the trains rushing by in the sky-rails; the sky a perpetually polluted sepia of filth.
New Crobuzon was a huge plague pit, a morbific city. Parasites, infection and rumour were uncontainable. A monthly chymical dip was a necessary prophylactic for the khepri, if they wanted to avoid itches and sores.
Everywhere I turn, there’s some new thing; the awful remades, criminals who have been punished by having their bodies fused with animals or steam-machine parts, the consequences of their actions forever following them in a twisted and sadistic way. There were also the different species that ran along with humans, Vodyanoi (frog-like people), Khepri (the males being mindless giant beetles and the females with their human bodies but a giant beetle in place of their head…), cacti people, and more. There’s even a dancing giant spider who speaks in a word-salad poetic way. I’m still trying to figure out half of what it said.
“Brock Marsh sewers, for example. All the unstable runoff from all those labs and experiments, accumulating over the years . . . makes for a very unpredictable population of vermin. Rats the size of pigs, speaking in tongues. Blind pygmy crocodiles, whose great-great-great-grandparents escaped from the zoo. Crossbreeds of all sorts.
If given the chance, I could probably talk on and on about my experience with “living in New Crobuzon.” Of all my annotations and highlights, most of mine came from highlights of world descriptions, races, and history and lore of Bas-Lag. It’s definitely not a beautiful place, in the slightest (I would NOT want to live here nor would I make it a single second), and Miéville will show you just this.
Just as with the writing, the only con on this end was the same thing that I fell in love with. The sheer volume of information and descriptions coming your way is endless. At times, the world around you is wonderfully crafted and described. But, there’s also times when it slows the story down; certain minor scenes having more description than needed.
Plot & Plot Development
The plot was kind of interesting. Our protagonist, Isaac, is a rogue-scientist who comes across a bird-man, a Garuda, who has lost his ability to fly due to reasons he refuses to disclose. His injury is grotesque (there is a LOT of body-horror in this book), but there’s not much he’s willing to talk about, only that he wishes to regain his ability to fly at whatever the cost. Of course, the gold offered is enticing on its own, but Isaac, being a scientist, is intrigued and enthralled enough just by the sight of the rare creature, that he is willing to take on the case and immediately gets on to studying and experimenting. It’s when one of his experiments gets out of hand when things spiral down hard that it’ll give you whiplash. Suddenly, we’re talking about endangering the lives of the entire city and three organizations wanting Isaac and his friend’s head on a platter.
One trope to describe the plot? “Nice Job Breaking It, Hero.”
The characters were interesting and wonderfully written characters; each with their Santa sacks of traits, personalities, histories, flaws, and moralities. Of the main group, there’s Isaac, the rogue-scientist, his Khepri girlfriend, Lin, who has a giant beetle for a head, Derkhan, one of the writers for a rebellious (and illegal) newspaper that she risks her life for by being associated with it, and of course the Garuda, Yagharek (Yag). There’s loyalty, there’s betrayal, there’s redemption, and there’s the unsavable.
Overall, I loved the book. I’m going to have a book hangover for days to come. Until I return to the trilogy, I’m going to deeply miss the world, the writing, and the prose. The characters went through hell fighting something that even the ambassador of hell absolutely refused to help and I spent a better part of two weeks “fighting” with them.
I’m not a chymist, or a biologist, or a thaumaturge…I’m a dilettante, Yagharek, a dabbler. I think of myself…” Isaac paused and laughed briefly. He spoke with heavy gusto. “I think of myself as the main station for all the schools of thought. Like Perdido Street Station. You know it?” Yagharek nodded. “Unavoidable, ain’t it? Fucking massive great thing.” Isaac patted his belly, maintaining the analogy. “All the train-lines meet there— Sud Line, Dexter, Verso, Head and Sink Lines; everything has to pass through it. That’s like me. That’s my job. That’s the kind of scientist I am.