Bellis is a cold woman running away from New Crobuzon, begrudgingly let on a colonizing ship to act as a translator between races. But when plans go awry and her ship is boarded by pirates, she is brought to a strange city called Armada. It's a city never seen before, made of a nimbus of ships bound together until even a city's districts and factions are reflected in this place. But not everything is as it seems, and enemies and allies alike don't speak of hidden agendas. For Bellis, she only longs to get back home. But as she makes plots and plans, the question that soon rises to the surface, like foam on the ocean, is whether she is the player or played.
Unfortunately I could only get my hands on this book before reading Perdido Street station, but hopefully that doesn't cause any discrepancy in this review.
I liked this book quite a book, but certain things held me back from saying its a great book. First off, the world. Wow, can Mieville write a different world. With the rich description and imagination to paint the Armada, it's really quite beautiful. Not to mention, the multitude of races, the mosquito people and the cactus people. It's interesting to see how commonplace elements are incorporated into a sentient race. The only drawback that I would say from the world building is the amount of time put into it.
I love a beautifully descriptive world as much as the next sci-fi fan, but Mieville really bogs down the book with endless description. Almost every single sentence is loaded with adjectives and descriptive phrases. It's dense. It's a really dense book that is hard to skim or understand the jest of a paragraph. It takes time to savor each paragraph. And when things drag, it gets a little boring. The first hundred pages or so had so much descriptive detail that I really wanted to keep flipping as fast as I could - but you can't do that when the important facts are hidden behind adjectives galore. It's still a beautiful world though, just a denser book than I generally prefer.
It's actually really interesting how Mieville treats the characters. It's almost as if he doesn't care if you like them or not. The main character Bellis is so unemotional and analytical it's sometimes hard to sympathize. In fact, it's hard to sympathize or love any character. But I guess I did love Bellis in the end, because as hard as she tries to be unemotional (besides going home), she does end up caring for people. In her stoic ways, at least. She is definitely an anti-hero. The interaction between the characters are genuine, but short. Dialogue is minimal. I guess that's understandable because Bellis hardly speaks. But that also means the story drags on a little longer. I was a little annoyed at how quickly important secondary characters switched in and out of the story, as if the story only had room for two characters at a time. (ex: Johannes, Silas, Doul, etc.) It's made the story feel discombobulated at times, unfocused even.
The story grew upon itself. That was a good thing at first because you realize that there are layers of deception upon more lies - and that's fascinating because I wanted to know the truth, I wanted to figure it out. But towards the end, it just started getting frustrating. It was like beating a dead horse. No, you can't trust anyone. Yes, you are being used. No, this is not the end goal. Yes, there is a hidden agenda. They were all beautifully written, more or less engaging, and very different. But at some point, it just feels like it's dragging on. And I was disappointed at the reveal of the Scar. Not impressive enough, bah.
I actually loved the ending when I read it. And then I thought about it a little and then was just sad. I loved it because of how realistic it is. Not everyone can be a player, a mover and a shaker. Not everyone knows all the pieces of the puzzle. And though Bellis was like a marionette, she was still able to say yes I did that with myself and reason behind it all. Even though all of her relations and friendships fell apart, she still received her desire at the end, but not through her own strength or cunning. It was just so realistic; I love it when a book can end without falling into cliches. And then I thought about it and ah, it is a bit of a bittersweet ending, perhaps even a tragedy. Perhaps.
This is not a book that leaves you with warm and fuzzy feeling about humanity, or with triumphant huzzahs. It's not a whirlwind of laughter and joy to sadness and worry. It's not that kind of book. As for emotions, it's as emotional as the main character: hardly. You'll turn the pages with anticipation and maybe a bit of fear and worry, but this is not a happy book. It's real, it's dark and gritty, it's a world that forces you to see things without those rose-colored lenses.
Three stars because it was a good read with strange, new world. Unfortunately the story got bogged down by excess detail and perhaps one too many plot twists. I was tempted to give it 3.5 stars because of the ending, but there are just too many problems for it to really hit that 3.5.
Recommended for people who like a lot of world building and are not afraid of dense books. It's quite interesting.
I'll also probably make an edit after I read the first book.