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Perdido Street Station by China Miéville
Pan Books, 2000. 867 pages.

Synopsis:

New Crobuzon is a giant metropolis that is inhabited by a variety of sentient species such as humans, khepri (insect women), cactacae (cactus people), garuda (bird people) and many more. It's a grim place, ruled by a corrupt government that enforces its power with the help of a brutal militia. Its technology is characterized by a mix of steampunk machinery and thaumaturgy (magic).

Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin is a rogue scientist renowned for his unorthodox research methods. When he isn't staying at his workplace, he's living with Lin, a khepri artist. Not entirely comfortable with being in an inter-racial relationship, he keeps her (mostly) a secret. Yagharek, a garuda from the desert whose wings have been cut off as a punishment, comes to New Crobuzon to engage Isaac's services, hoping that Isaac can help him to regain the power of flight. Isaac starts his research and eventually, all hell breaks loose.

My thoughts:

I had difficulties to summarize the plot and I still don't think I did it justice. The universe of Perdido Street Station is as complex as it's unusual and bizarre. I was immediately gripped by Miéville's powerful descriptions. The first one-third of the novel is entirely dedicated to world building and character development, and that's the part I loved best.

My favorite character was Lin. The story of her upbringing by a religiously zealot mother and her struggles with the norms of khepri society make her a fascinating, multi-layered personality. It's a pity to see her disappear midway through the novel. Miéville has lost the chance to create a truly exciting female protagonist here. I would have liked to like Derkhan, political activist, lesbian and close friend of Lin and Isaac, but as soon as the action/adventure plot starts, she's reduced to a mere sidekick.

The weak point of the novel is indeed the action/adventure part. As soon as the problem is developed, everything becomes predictable and there's even some sort of deus ex machina involved. I was glad for the unexpected twist in the ending. It was a bit annoying at first, but it definitely kept me thinking.

Perdido Street Station may have its weaknesses, but overall it's a captivating read. I'm looking forward to the next novel in this universe.
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