Book #37: Iron Council (2004)

iron councilauthor: China Miéville
length: 614 e-pages
language: English
finished on: 3 August 2013

I’m getting lazy with this blog again. So I finished this book, the third in China Miéville’s Bas-Lag trilogy, about a month ago now. To sum up, it wasn’t as good as the previous ones, but I still liked it.

The story is described on various sites discussing Miéville as having the most overtly political statement in it, and also as fulfilling Miéville’s desire to write a story in every genre by having Western themes, such as travellers on horseback and a train whose tracks are being laid. The “Iron Council” of the title is exactly that train, a socialist utopia that broke away by revolution from a monopolist railroad company – I guess this is sort of spoiler territory, because I didn’t know what the Iron Council was supposed to be before I actually read the book, but they run away and become a “perpetual train” laying down tracks in front as fast as they take up the tracks behind. I’ve already noted that Miéville loves to make use of train tropes, and this reflects in his later work “Railsea”, which I also reviewed recently.

I think I was most pleasantly surprised to find that one of the main characters (there are three, essentially) was gay, although as I’ve mentioned before, Miéville uses a kind of unique dialect when he writes his Bas-Lag books, and there was an entirely different word used. He’s in love with one of the other main characters, who is presented as aloof and like he considers himself a god being benevolent towards the younger wrathful character. And bi, which predictably causes tension in the relationship. Even then, it’s not presented as a very healthy relationship, and I liked that because it shows authenticity to me.

In many ways it was also like a kind of relief to be able to enter into Miéville’s world again, and the aforementioned unique words were a key element of this, even though they’re just a very small background aspect. I liked seeing into more of the mythology of the world and seeing some more of the races and characters that he uses, although this book very much focused on the humans compared to the previous stories. I rather hope he makes more books in that universe.

There was a strange section in the second act of the book, in which the point of view transports back in time (and references some of the events of the first book in doing so, which got me confused), and focuses on the older man who thinks himself a god, and the establishment of the Iron Council. The writing style here is different, as it is mostly told in the present tense, doesn’t use chapter numbers, and marks direct speech with a dash instead of quotation marks. I found this kind of jarring. My kindle also registered it as “one” chapter even though it’s actually about 12, and there was a big gap in the line along the bottom showing the chapter endings.

I think the main thing I’d want to complain about, though, was the ending. I don’t really want to go into too much detail, but it was very anticlimactic and disappointing (although there are a satisfying number of twists leading up to the ending). I would also perhaps complain about Miéville’s writing style, which I think was more baroque in this book than in the others that I’ve read. It wasn’t quite as long as the others in the series, and I actually finished it quicker, but it felt longer.

I wouldn’t recommend the book unless you’ve already read the others in the series (although the stories are standalone and this definitely doesn’t require knowledge of the previous books). But I’d recommend the three as a series.

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