The Scar, by China Miéville, takes place on the world of Bas-Lag, first encountered in the multi-award winning Perdido Street Station and chronologically following the events that occurred there. While there are a few references to events in that story, this is not a sequel but those that have read it will be more familiar with the world and it's exotic mix of arcane and mutant inhabitants. Here's what this one is all about...
When her friends and acquaintances start to disappear, courtesy of the New Crobuzon authorities, Bellis Coldwine decides that heading across the Swollen Ocean to Nova Esperium for a while might be a good idea. Her fellow passengers include scientists and misfits mostly heading for the new land and a new life. They also carry a cargo of Remade, criminals physically altered as part of their punishment, bound for a much grimmer life of servitude. They never make it...
On the way, on a diplomatic detour to the vast undersea city of the Cray, the crew discover that one of New Crobuzon's secret underwater drilling rigs has inexplicably disappeared and when a shadowy individual called Silas Fennec, working for the government, takes command of the ship with the intention of returning home immediately, Bellis fears her escape has been cut short. However, on the way back, the ship is attacked by pirates and they find themselves pressganged into the population of a vast floating city called Armada.
Bellis, resigned to her fate as a citizen and prisoner of Armada, longs to return to New Crobuzon so plots a means of escape with Silas, knowing it will be nigh impossible and could lead to theur deaths if discovered. However, the rulers of Armada have plans of their own that lead to an island of forgotten people, the raising of a vast underwater beast and a journey across the Hidden Ocean in search of The Scar, a massive wound in reality but possibly also a source of ultimate power.
Miéville has crafted a rich world as the background for his tales in Bas-Lag and the sprawling metropolis of New Crobuzon and this story extends that world to encompass new lands, oceans and peoples. Those who have read Perdido Street Station will be familiar with that city and the spiked Hotchi, the thorny Cactacae, the insect-headed Khepri and amphibious Vodyanoi races but we get also to meet some new ones in this story - the blood-sucking Anophilii, the part-crustacean Cray, the Vampir and the mysterious and powerful Grindelow. The concept of Armada, a vast floating city of ships tethered together, being pulled across the oceans in search of booty and trade, is simply amazing and makes the story so much more detailed and involved. On top of this there's the wealth of diverse and well developed characters - The Lovers, Shekel, Tanner Sack, Johannes Tearfly, Uther Doul, Silas Fennec and The Brucolac.
I preferred Perdido Street Station but The Scar is well up there and well worth reading, even though I was slightly disappointed with the ending. Gaining a Special Citation in the Philip K. Dick Awards and nominated for The Hugo Award, The BSFA Award and The Arthur C. Clarke Award, this is well worth a place in any science fiction fan's bookshelf.
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy, Science Fiction
My Rating: 8/10