Aboard a vast seafaring vessel, a band of prisoners and slaves, their bodies remade into grotesque biological oddities, is being transported to the fledgling colony of New Crobuzon. But the journey is not theirs alone. They are joined by a handful of travelers, each with a reason for fleeing the city. Among them is Bellis Coldwine, a renowned linguist whose services as an interpreter grant her passage—and escape from horrific punishment. For she is linked to Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, the brilliant renegade scientist who has unwittingly unleashed a nightmare upon New Crobuzon.
For Bellis, the plan is clear: live among the new frontiersmen of the colony until it is safe to return home. But when the ship is besieged by pirates on the Swollen Ocean, the senior officers are summarily executed. The surviving passengers are brought to Armada, a city constructed from the hulls of pirated ships, a floating, landless mass ruled by the bizarre duality called the Lovers. On Armada, everyone is given work, and even Remades live as equals to humans, Cactae, and Cray. Yet no one may ever leave.
Lonely and embittered in her captivity, Bellis knows that to show dissent is a death sentence. Instead, she must furtively seek information about Armada’s agenda. The answer lies in the dark, amorphous shapes that float undetected miles below the waters—terrifying entities with a singular, chilling mission. . .
I had an interesting journey with this book. At first I wasn’t sure what to make of it and it took me forever to get into it but once I started connecting to the story I was fully along for the ride and I ended up loving it in the end!
Like most more literary works I read I find myself trying to look underneath the surface and figure out ‘what does it all mean?’ and ‘what’s the message of this book?’. Of course, like most of the time, I have no idea. I will admit that deep messages tend to go over my head but one thing I did take away from the book is Bellis’ journey. I feel like, for me, Bellis is a character that seemed to have a great deal of character growth and in actuality had no actual character growth? Her journey is that of a circle, at the end she’s headed right back where she started from, resolute not to repeat past mistakes. And yet throughout this story she does nothing except repeat the same mistake over and over right up to the very end. She’s conscious of this fact and determined to change her ways. But I can’t help feel like part of the message here is that we’re doomed to repeat our history no matter how much we’re aware of it and actively trying to avoid it. Now that I’m sitting down thinking about this properly, that seems to be my biggest take away. Damn, this book made me think after all!
Other things I loved about this book: all the weird stuff in it. I love weird things, that’s no secret to anyone who has followed me talking about books for a while. My favorite type of weird are when things are weird without much explanation and this book has that in spades. Mosquito women who suck the liquid out of a person until their nothing but a dry husk? Check! People who are ‘remade’ into other things–given gills or machine parts with built in boilers? Check! Legends about other lands or histories of the world that are even weirder than anything that’s just normal weird? Check! A floating city made of ships are tied together out in the middle of the ocean with literal book pirates (I see what you did there, Miéville)? Check! In short, if you like weird–this is one you’ll probably want to this one out.
I also really loved the way the story unfolded. At first it was a bit boring to me, not going to lie. But. One thing it did was keep moving along and into different stages–each one with more mystery and higher stakes than the one before it. There are several points of view throughout the story but the main character is Bellis and we see much of the story through her perspective. Bellis herself is a bit of a mystery–why is she leaving her home? Who is this person she keeps writing to? One of the reasons I had a bit of a slow start with this one is because at first I found it really hard to connect with Bellis. She comes off as very cold and a little bit haughty and sometimes too nosy for her own good. She’s leaving her home but she seems to be focused on getting back there as soon as things take a bad turn and it’s this drive that fuels her involvement with the other characters. Bellis feels very much like a loner and yet she also can’t help being drawn to others and getting caught up in their stories–she’s a bit of a contradiction at times. But about halfway through I suddenly was along with Bellis for this ride–rooting for her at every turn. That’s when the story really took off for me and once I was invested I was a happy camper.
There are probably a lot more things I could say about this one, but I’ll keep it short. Had a tough start but ended on a high note and I’m really glad I read it. 4.5/5 stars.