Big-name books (Miéville) with big big hype (Stairs) don’t need any more reviews. But big, big mouths (mine) (or because this is written: big big pencils? big big laptops?) can’t resist leaving a few words here for anyone who has read them to come and trade thoughts. And since the invisible book club read Iron Council this month—all of book blogdom is a book club, really—and since the internet couldn’t shut up about City of Stairs last year, I know there are a big handful of you out there. So! Blah blah blah blah here we go!
Iron Council by China Miéville
Long were the years that I put off reading Miéville’s third Bas Lag book. Everyone points to Iron Council as Miéville’s boring book. My Beard found a (German) copy on the street (on the street!) and gave up 100 pages in because *yawn*. I was nervous that the same would happen to me. Except I am stubborn, and pod damn it, I was going to read and finish this book.
Hey @bookpunks! I finished Iron Council! scree- 12, puissance- 6, mucal- 2, cowed- 17, palimpsest- 2 Winner: golem- 229
— couchtomoon (@couchtomoon) April 24, 2015
Miéville loves using big, SAT vocab words (for the non-US readers, the SAT is a standard test you take so you can apply to college) and then to repeat them to the point of absurdity. I always learn a lot of new words when I read Miéville because every word you look up you will see between three and 229 more times, and repetition is an effective teacher. At the same time, his word choice can be jarring and when it starts to make you laugh, it becomes disruptive. This only added to the loudest of its annoying aspects: Iron Council almost completely fails to provide fictional immersion.
I liked the idea of Iron Council, what it is trying to do, the interesting things it has to say about revolts and revolutions and collectives, but the execution left me cold. Here is a book about things that I am deeply interested in, in fiction and in reality (political dissidents! revolt! underground organization! subversive performance art!), and yet my enjoyment of their presentation remained artificial. I was theoretically interested in every detail, but a deeper involvement, an invitation to get lost, to get passionate, is missing. There are a few exciting Miévillian inventions that I loved (smokestone, weird golems, the dark and chaotic visual imagery of a nomadic train town), but they were not enough to carry 600 pages of words on their backs.
Iron Council begins with more action than I expected of a book so many have called boring. Ooh, travelers seeking a mysterious someone and something?! And what is this Iron Council anyway? Interludes back in New Crobuzon were slower, but had potential. Then several hundred pages of backstory slapped in the middle that were not unlike a long slog through the mud of Rudewood. Though necessary (perhaps) and interesting (again, theoretically), I could have done without this entire section, would have prefered to get this information in almost any other way. Though the reader is rewarded for surviving the journey with a return to the intense action and excitement of an explosive denouement.
Structurally, Miéville appears to have been more focused on examining the lines and pulleys that make a revolution go than on putting together a tightly woven story. Facts and factors were presented, as they must be, but it lacked a cohesion that could have made the entirety magical.
So much potential, frozen in time…hey wait a minute did he do that on purpose? Potential frozen in time is one of the books biggest Things. Huh. Shrug golem.
Six out of ten five-star rating golems.
City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett
This book was exactly what I needed after the slog that (sometimes) was Iron Council. I asked Book Punks readers to vote on what I would read next, and people, you chose well. After the density of Iron Council I desperately wanted to read something that flew, that provided full immersion, whose story picked me up and carried me across several hours without me ever looking at the clock. City of Stairs is very good at this, part mystery, part fantasy, part commentary on colonization that it is. I was wrapped up in the characters and the stories, though not instantly—the book’s opening was its weakest point—and I happily rode every single sentence out to the book’s end. This was a pure joy ride for me, so I will leave it to other bloggers to say something deep.
From Couch to Moon on City of Stairs: “And like Harry Potter, it’s a fun, magical fantasy romp—the kind you might recommend to your mom to read over the holidays, as long as she’s okay with a homosexual male character (who only acts romantically toward females during the narrative, so no biggie) and murdered deities (they aren’t the Judeo-Christian god, so it’s okay!). The characters have fun, quirky interchanges with one another, the action scenes are unique, vivid, and even intense at times. And it all wraps up with a satisfying, heartwarming ending that you might see coming from a mile away but your mom probably won’t.” Read her full review here.
Renay/Lady Business on City of Stairs: “But to me the heart of the novel is about history — both personal and national — and how history can shape so much of what we do and who we are, and what the consequences are if we learn new things about history and misuse that information. What kind of people do we become when we learn new truths or have what we think we knew challenged? We often have a choice, and that choice has far-reaching consequences much longer and more influential than we can see. What’s more important: the truth or our egos? People or power?
“City of Stairs is lively in its writing, canny with its revelations, and boasts a crunchy critique about colonialism that unfolds until the very end, all wrapped up in an intriguing spy narrative package. Even in dark moments there is hope, friendship, love, and compassion. I enjoyed it so much.” Read more here, particularly for Renay’s discussion of something spoilery that happens to the novel’s token bi-sexual which I am not going to tell you about until you read the book.
Thirty out of forty page-turning golems.
PS City of Stairs has a sequel called City of Blades scheduled to come out in January, 2016. Extra extra read all about it.
Have you read either of these? What did you think? I will shake you until your thoughts fall out of your jacket like coins!