Denver Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Club
The Scar (2002)
2003 British Fantasy Award winner
2003 Hugo Award nominee
Del Rey USA trade paperback
cover art by Ashley Wood
638 pages (left)
Pan Macmillan UK hardback
604 pages (right)
China Miéville - The Scar
(Warning! Some spoilers)
The Scar is a gritty, epic fantasy. The book takes you to the complex, floating city of Armada, which is on an imaginatively weird quest across the oceans of Bas-Lag.
Bellis Coldwine, a linguist, left the city of New Crobuzon. She was afraid the militia would take her and question her about the strange events in the book Perdido Street Station, for which her former lover, Isaac der Grimnebulin, is being blamed, and about which Bellis knows nothing.
The Crobuzoner merchant vessel Terpsichoria is sailing from Iron Bay across the Swollen Ocean to the colony of Nova Esperium. Bellis is hired on as a translator of Salkrikator Cray, a language spoken by sea dwelling demi-humans. Aboard ship she develops a friendship with passenger Dr. Johannes Tearfly, a stuffy naturalist. Below decks are prisoners being shipped to the colony as workers. Among them is Tanner Sack, a Remade man who, for punishment, had tentacles attached to his chest. Tanner befriends Shekel, a cabin boy, by sharing stories with him.
In Salkrikaltor City, which is situated both above and below the ocean, Bellis translates for the Captain and his Lieutenant in a clandestine meeting. She learns that New Crobuzon is missing a mobile marine drilling platform.
Once at sea again, The Captain informs everyone that Terpsichoria is returning to New Crobuzon. He offers no explanation to the disgruntled passengers, but Bellis knows this is the doing of newcomer Silas Fennec, a man who boarded in Salkrikaltor.
Pirates attack Terpsichoria in open seas. The crew is no match for the pirates. Leading the attackers is a swordsman so dangerous it's unreal. He's named Uther Doul. Many die. Terpsichoria surrenders and is taken to Armada, a floating city built on a conglomerate of tied together ships of all sizes and types. New Crobuzon's stolen rig is incorporated into Armada. The survivors, including the prisoners, are interviewed to determine their skills and to see if they can become new citizens of the city of Armada.
Bellis is uncomfortable with the idea of spending the rest of her life on Armada. She takes an offered job at the library. Others from Terpsichoria are adjusting better. Tanner becomes a respected underwater engineer. Shekel has a Remade girlfriend. Johannes is proud to be part of a confidential project of The Lovers, the eccentric rulers of Garwater, the most powerful riding, or district, of Armada. The only person that shares Bellis' secret hope to escape is Silas Fennec, now known as Simon Fench, who turns out to be a Crobuzoner spy.
Bellis figures out the Garwater's secret project is to summon a humungous sea creature called an avanc. Bellis' knowledge of the language High Kettai allows her translate a sought after book by Krüach Aum detailing the summoning an avanc. When Armada seeks out Aum, a mosquito man, Bellis is a member of the group that goes ashore on the deadly anophelii island. She translates between Aum and the Armada scientists. Bellis, with the help of Tanner, gets a secret message to the captain of the cactacae men guarding the island. Silas convinced Bellis of the importance of getting this message back to New Crobozon. Bellis takes the risk for her former home, more than for Silas, who has become a seldom seen political agitator.
An avanc is called from the depths at a deadeye in the ocean and using technology and thaumaturgy. It's captured in a huge underwater bridle attached to the city by chains. The Lovers, rulers of Garwater, control the avanc using a rockmilk engine. Rockmilk was drilled for using the stolen rig. The avanc pulls Armada faster than it has traveled before. But where is it going? Three out of eight ridings of the city were initially opposed to the scheme, and are questioning Garwater's unknown plans.
Meanwhile Uther Doul, bodyguard of The Lovers, has taken to talking to Bellis. His attention confounds her, but apparently Doul considers her a friend. He shows her around the Garwater flagship Grand Easterly, and tells her about himself and his lethal Possible Sword, a sword of possible strikes.
Warships of the New Crobuzon navy locate Armada, and a sea battle ensues. Armada desperately fights for its life against superior firepower, and sustains many casualties and many ships are lost. How could the Crobuzoner Navy find Armada?
The avanc drags Armada through the unexplored Hidden Ocean, which ordinary vessels can't cross because of strange currents and engines becoming untrustworthy. Eventually the Lovers tell the citizens of Armada they are going to the Scar, to tap the power of possibilities. Unsettling problems soon impede them. The avanc is sick. The Brucolac, the disgruntled "vampir" ruler of the riding of Dry Water, leads a mutiny in which nasty creatures, long searching for Armada for their own reasons, attack. But it is mysterious occurrences involving the cactacae man Hedrigall that inspire Armadans to rethink what it means to go to the Scar.summary written by
10 Wow! Don't miss it
8-9 Highly recommended
5-6 Mild recommendation
3-4 Take your chances
1-2 Below average; skip it
0 Get out the flamethrower!
U Unfinishable or unreadable
- Skipped or no rating given