Iron Council Hardcover – Jul 27 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
In this stunning new novel set mainly in the decadent and magical city of New Crobuzon, British author Miéville (The Scar) charts the course of a proletarian revolution like no other. The capitalists of New Crobuzon are pushing hard. More and more people are being arrested on petty charges and "Remade" into monstrous slaves, some half animal, others half machine. Uniformed militia are patrolling the streets and watching the city from their dirigibles. They turn a blind eye when racists stage pogroms in neighborhoods inhabited by non-humans. An overseas war is going badly, and horrific, seemingly meaningless terrorist acts occur with increasing frequency. Radical groups are springing up across the city. The spark that will ignite the revolution, however, is the Perpetual Train. Workers building the first transcontinental railroad, badly mistreated by their overseers, have literally stolen a train, laying track into the wild back-country west of the great city, tearing up track behind them, fighting off the militia sent to arrest them, even daring to enter the catotopic zone, that transdimensional continental scar where anything is possible. Full of warped and memorable characters, this violent and intensely political novel smoothly combines elements of fantasy, science fiction, horror, even the western. Miéville represents much of what is new and good in contemporary dark fantasy, and his work is must reading for devotees of that genre. FYI: Miéville has won Arthur C. Clarke, British Science Fiction and British Fantasy awards.
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In the forest Rudewood, Cutter waits for the few who will join him in finding the somaturge, or creator of golems, Judah, and then warning the Iron Council that the militia of the powerful, totalitarian city of New Crobuzon are closing in to destroy it. Meanwhile, in the malign megalopolis, young Ori, seeking to contact a daring urban freedom fighter and strike real blows against New Crobuzon's rulers, gets acquainted with an apparently mad old man said to have been a comrade of legendary outlaw-rebel Jack Half-a-Prayer. Mieville returns to the sublimely weird world of his award-winning Perdido Street Station (2000) and The Scar (2002) in a shorter but still sprawling saga that is being boosted as his breakthrough to the kind of popularity fellow English fantasists Clive Barker and Neil Gaiman enjoy. The new book's parts alternate between Cutter's and Ori's adventures, which eventually intersect, and a long flashback tells the backstory of Judah and the Iron Council. Cutter's story unfolds like a blending of western movies and King Kong, and Ori's echoes the urban grunge fantasy of Gaiman's Sandman graphic novels. Freighting his prose with arcane botanical and engineering terms as well as neologisms, Mieville writes the intertwined tales in different styles--relatively spare and dry for Cutter's, lush and saturated for Ori's. His verbal and imaginative largesse may throw some readers while utterly engrossing others. No doubt about it, he's an original. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
Do I recommend this book? Yes, for those who have already read PST and the Scar. For new readers, I'd recommend reading those two first.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
In IRON COUNCIL, a visionary business tycoon is trying to build a transcontinental railroad. When a protest over unpaid wages boils over, the men, cacatae, Remade, and prostitutes working on the railroad strike, and when the railroad calls in the vicious militia, they go on the lam. Now calling themselves the Iron Council, they escape temporarily, but the powers of New Crobuzon cannot let their defiance go unpunished. As revolt simmers under the surface of New Crobuzon, it may be time for the Iron Council to return and do their part to overthrow the oppressive regime.
One of the virtues of Mieville's work is that he takes the maxim "Homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto" ("I am human; nothing human is alien to me") and stretches it to its limit. He has empathy for all of his characters (except for the faceless killers of the militia, mostly), regardless of race (human, Remade, cacatae), religion, class, or sexuality, and regardless of how repellent they may be to our cultured, earthly, human, presumptively middle-class sensibilities. This is very much present in IRON COUNCIL.
On the other hand, the narrative in IRON COUNCIL is so twisted and Mieville's desire to keep the reader in the dark about what's going on is so strong that the first third-to-half of the book quickly becomes difficult to read. This problem is compounded by language that is often annoyingly difficult to parse. It is also aggravated by too little self-editing; neither the narrative nor the reader need so many details. Given these faults, many readers will consider quitting in the first half of the book. I was tempted, but by the mid-point of the book I had enough momentum going to pull me through to the end.
What I liked best about IRON COUNCIL were the moments of revolutionary ambivalence, where characters knew that the present order was unjust and oppressive, and knew that it had to change, but weren't sure what to do about it and more importantly were conflicted over which means the ends justified. Anybody engaged in social activism for a cause that's out of the mainstream knows the feelings and may even share some of the experiences of Mieville's characters.
IRON COUNCIL can be read as a standalone novel, but it is best read in order, after PERDIDO STREET STATION and THE SCAR. I recommend it, but not to those with little patience, allergies to writerly prose, authoritarian tendencies, or homophobia.
If I had to compare it to any book, I would say that it is not unlike Ursula K. Le Guin's "The Left Hand of Darkness" in that it presents complex ideas in shifting points of view with no clear moral high ground. I would liken Cutter to Genly Ai, and Judah Low to Estraven.
A large portion of this book is written in a style I am familiar with from Alan Paton's "Cry, The Beloved Country", and it is beautiful. I loved it when I read Paton's book in my first year in college, and Mieville's echo of it does not disappoint. It gives the story a sense of being otherwhere in time from the rest of the narrative. It's raw, immediate, the stream-of-conscious feels like listening to a story spoken aloud.
Thematically, this is a difficult book. I rate it 5 stars because I understand and identify with its ideas on a very deep level; they are pets to me, treasured toys of intellect, many of which make up a large part of how I define myself. This is not a clear-cut tale of good and evil. Indeed, it is never made wholly clear exactly WHY the government's corruption is so deplorable (I suspect it may be clearer to someone who has read the previous books; I have not, and do not feel that it takes away from the overall story). The heroes and villains of the story are difficult to assign and change often. In the end, this story is not about good and evil, or freedom vs. corrupt government. It is about the importance of myth, and the sacrifices of those who create it and become it. It is not an easy story to relate to or comprehend, but if you do -- if the weight of memetics is something you find worthy of investigation, if the questions of who has a RIGHT to be a savior or a revolutionary is something you wish to consider, you should read this book.
Other reviews have noted and criticized the homosexual/bisexual content of this book. I note it, because it is an essential part of what drives at least one of the main characters, but I do not criticize it. To those who would, I would advise you to reevaluate your outlook on humanity. Like Le Guin's "Left Hand of Darkness", this book challenges the traditional validity of romantic sub-plots and the roles played in relationships. There is a sort of convoluted "love story" carried throughout the book. It is tragic. It is unbalanced. It will confuse people who are tied to the notion that a love story is about a man and a woman. This love story ignores boundaries of gender, age, and even (sometimes) species. This book contains fairly graphic depictions of nontraditional sexual desires and acts. These are not, in my estimation, gratuitous. They are very human. They represent the basic truth that humans -- whether they are from Earth, from Bas-Lag, from Gethen, male or female or androgyne or Remade -- are human. They need. They hunger. They lust. There is no meaningful difference between those who hunger for one thing or another. We are all equally warriors, martyrs, lovers, and sacrifices in the end.
That said, this book is worth reading simply for Mr. Mieville's wonderfully distorted, wonderfully baroque style; he writes like the inmate of a victorian madhouse who has been fed on a diet of cyberpunk and dark fantasy. He's probably got the most original vision of any currently-active fantasy writer, and that's saying something. If you're not into gloriously overwritten prose, or checking the dictionary every few pages is something that annoys you (and you can't just make yourself :beep: over the big words), this may not be the book for you. If you'd enjoy wallowing for a while in the most wonderfully over-wrought imagined setting that I'm aware of, this book is probably worth your time.
One thing I did not like was that this book is somewhat more overtly political than its predecessors. _Perdido_ and _Scar_ didn't really play political favorites: the world was divided between the weak and the strong, not the oppressed worker and the evil governmentocapitalist. This book does not follow that trend: one could read the whole thing as a paean to the plight of the oppressed industrial laborer (although you could also read it as merely echoing the political issues of his chosen pseudo-industrial-revolution epoch). If you're into that sort of thing, you might *really* like this book, perhaps even moreso than its predecessors. If you find worker v. capitalist conflicts to be something less than your cup of tea, you might want to think about skipping this volume in favor of something else.