To say China Miéville is one of the most promising young writers in Fantastic Literature is an understatement, so I’ll just get it out of the way now. His work is considered some of the best, most imaginative and most important work on the shelves in bookstores today. With Iron Council, he makes the leap to Hardcover (at least for US Publisher Del Rey Books) and carries with him, the great storytelling techniques, imagination and sheer brilliance, which have brought him the much-deserved acclaim he has received.
His previous works are characterized by creatures of the weird living in dark environs, woven together in imaginative tales infused with humanity and themes illuminating the most crucial experiences we, as humans, can go through. Iron Council is no exception. China Miéville does not write novels one can simply escape into, his work is not entirely predictable, save for the fact that when you open the book, you can trust the story you will read is an explosion of the imaginative. You will be confronted with characters who bear only the slightest physical resemblance to ourselves, but whose very fiber is made from the same stuff we are. The Weird races of Bas-lag, the mish-mash of parts that make up the people called the Remade, the cactus men, the insect-headed khepri, and the aquatic vodyanoi struggle in this strange world, the world Miéville began fleshing out in the award-winning Perdido Street Station and The Scar. That said, Iron Council is a novel standing on its own powerful merits.
In Iron Council, Miéville tells the story of a worker’s revolution, of a revolution against an established, powerful government also at war with an opposing nation. This is a novel brimming with conflict, both on the grand scale of the nations and factions, as well as between the people and within the individuals. Echoes of historical events and figures in our world reach Bas-lag, from the worker’s revolution itself to the mythical golem-maker Judah Low. As in his earlier novels, Miéville blends elements of science and magic to create a new thaumaturgy, in this case Golemetry. Miéville takes the ancient myth of the Golem, something completely mythical and magical, and applies genuine, scientific authenticity to it—in essence it comes across as real.
With his characters, Miéville infuses the same electricity, the same ‘realness’ whether human or Weird. Despite the fact that some of these characters are humans with extra appendages, walking cactuses, or practitioners of strange thaumaturgies, these are real, fully developed characters, who, at their core, are driven by some of the same things we are: acceptance, equal rights, and individuality. These characters are set against the fantastic backdrop of the nations of Bas-lag, primarily the city-nation of New Crobuzon. As the revolutionary group travels the land seeking the nigh mythic Iron Council, they briefly stop at odd locales such as the odd village of Rudewood and Myrshock, a small-town with scattered Weird peoples; and of course the Iron Council itself, the hell-bent, ever-moving city-like collective of insurrectionists seeking upheaval of the established, capitalist society.
After the initial pastiche, Miéville thrusts the reader into a scene of chaos, tension and action:
A man runs. Pushes through thin bark-and-leaf walls, through the purposeless rooms of Rudewood. The trees crowd him.
This opening statement encapsulates the novel quite well, people are on the move, they are pushing against things in their way and the suffocating things surrounding them overwhelm them. From here, the reader is launched on the epic journey, flavored with real characters, strange ‘sciences’ and weird creatures. The true greatness of Iron Council is many layered. In terms of greatness with the realm of Fantastic Literature, Miéville is able to illustrate Weird wild imagination to highlight the human condition, to illustrate the necessity of our existence against the strange backdrop. He is also able to pull off only what the true Greats can: powerful characterization coupled with Epic and Grand struggles. With Iron Council, Miéville continues to cement his status as One to Watch, the Next Great Writer. A writer, years from now people will speak in the same breath as such luminary Masters as Gene Wolfe and Michael Moorcock. As with all of Miéville’s work, Iron Council comes with the highest recommendation.
Reviewed by Rob H. Bedford
© 2004 Rob Bedford