I love the first two Bas-Lag books
but it took me ages to get around to this third volume due to the relatively high number of less than enthusiastic reviews on Goodreads and elsewhere. Yes, I can be swayed by reviews if the consensus opinion leans towards the negative. At the end of the day though I could not resist picking this book up as it is the last Bas-Lag volume for the foreseeable future (Miéville may come back to it but he seems to have no plan to do so at the moment). Another thing in Iron Council's favor is that Miéville himself is aware that it is not as well received as the previous Bas-Lag books but still consistently defends it to the hilt during interviews. He even said that it is his favorite volume of the three (I may add sources for this bold statement later, but in the meantime Google is your friend!). If I remember correctly he feels that it is the most well written and mature of the three. What I am not sure he realises or acknowledges though is that it is also the least fun.
The book is essentially about the citizens of New Crobuzon’s struggle for equal rights, justice, and a good life. Parts of it reminds me a lot of [b:Les Misérables|24280|Les Misérables|Victor Hugo|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1327702573s/24280.jpg|3208463], unfortunately it does not have Victor Hugo’s well developed and colorful cast of characters. Characterization is not normally a problem for China Miéville but the character h development on this novel is not up to his usual standard, not appalling by any means just not quite up to snuff for him.
One major advantage the Bas-Lag series has over most epic fantasy is its sheer weirdness, its bestiary includes Khepri ladies with insects for heads, the amphibian Vodyanoi with their water sculptures, Garudas, Cactacaes (cactus people) etc. There is no place in Bas-Lag for trolls, elves, ogres and dwarves, they can eff off as far as Mr. Miéville is concerned. Even wizards can eff off unless they are called thaumaturges
instead. Then you have the remades, humans grotesquely modified “thaumaturgy” as punishment for crimes (major and minor). One example is a character who has his head permanently turned back to front, and another with a baby’s arms attached to her head.
This is the most political novel of his that I have read so far with the titular Iron Council being a steam train kidnapped by rebels, former railway employees cheated of their wages. They soon become legendary inspirations for the rebels of New Crobuzon who conspire to bring down the oppressive government. In the meantime the city of New Crobuzon is also at war with another city called Tesh who are masters of some particularly weird and horrific magic - natch, thaumaturgy. Quite why the war between the two cities is relevant to the novel’s main story arc I am not sure, though the thaumaturgic warfare is wonderfully bizarre. Another bizarre idea is the railroad for the Iron Council which is built just ahead of the train and disassembled behind it, how is this logistically possible I am not sure, though you can get a lot done with thaumaturgy.
When reading a China Miéville book you never have to worry about having to tolerate sub-par prose, his writing is as literary as ever. The only snag is you may want to have a dictionary within reach and also be prepared to decipher some of his neologisms. Words like tenebrotropic, atrabilious and subvocalurgy are sometime arcane words you can find in a dictionary, while other times the author’s inventions. There is a large chunk of the book narrated in some kind of mythical or legend style where dialog is rare is quotation marks are not used. I kind of understand why Miéville may have wanted to write this portion of he novel this way but it reads like a rather detached second or even third hand account of events. I also add another layer between the reader and the story which makes it harder to immerse into the story.
The weirdest thing about this book is that it seems more enjoyable in retrospect
than during the actual reading of it. There are some wonderful ideas, creatures and world building. At the end if the day it is something of a disappointment for this particular fan. Not at all unforgivable though, I am always keen to read more Miévilles.