Had you told me when I first read Perdido Street station, when I was struggling to get my head around Mieville’s bewildering setting, that I would one day come to find Bas-Lag a welcome and familiar place, well- I just would not have believed you.
But, here we are! After having to get used to the rules of Mievielle’s CultPunk London, and the wholly alien world of Embasseytown, returning to the world of Bas-Lag was nothing short of a relief. And not just Bas-Lag, but New Crobuzon! Iron Council never even approaches the heights of The Scar (come on, few books do) but it does have one thing going for it that The Scar did not: New Crobuzon.
The varied races living uneasily shoulder to shoulder, the grotesque remade, Dog Fenn and the Ribs, the militia, and looming over it all Perdido Street Station itself. New Crobuzon is every bit as surreal and heady here as it was in Perdido Street Station, and I loved the chance to explore the setting further.
There is no simple way to summarize the plot of Iron Council, but this is a Mieville book so surely that isn’t a surprise. One man, Judah Low, becomes (or is possibly possessed by?) some kind of saint. He joins a group of indentured remade and free railway workers as they steal a train (as you do) and flee with it across the wild and dangerous countryside. They are the Iron Council and exist in the minds of New Crobuzons as little more than legend. Except now Judah Low has set out to bring them back and tip the scales in a revolution against the city’s corrupt mayor.
Low is joined by an assorted group of followers. Most notably an angry young man named Cutter, who was the character I found most interesting. Whereas the others are following Judah because they believe in the Iron Coucil, Cutter believes only in Judah. He’s desperately in love with the man, even though the most he ever gets in return in a kind of absent minded affection that’s probably worse than nothing at all.
I found Judah himself to be pretty unlikeable. He’s a deft hand at conjuring and controlling golums, and he does have some pretty bad ass moments, but for all that he constantly comes across as vaguely weak. Where others are actively changing the course of history Judah hangs back just a little, keeps himself just slightly removed, stops himself from committing fully so if things go badly he can still get away. Plus the way he treats and manipulates Cutter left a bad taste in my mouth.
Having said that my favourite part of the book was an extended flashback in the middle told from Low’s point of view that dealt with the birth of Iron Council. This could have been a novel all in itself, and was packed with enough action and emotion to keep me more than happy.
Aside from this whole Iron Coucil business there as another story line featuring a young “revolutionary” (read: terrorist) named Ori. This plotline was interesting enough, but honestly I think it could have been cut completely from the book. I felt like its only purpose was to a provide a kind of “meanwhile, back in New Crobuzon’ element to the narrative, to stop the whole thing from being set in the wilds. But Ori’s actions didn’t have any real effect on the main Iron Council part of the plot, and it just seemed to go nowhere. Well, no, it went somewhere. Just somewhere kind of lame and unsatisfying.
Parts of this book displayed everything I love about Mieville’s world, but unfortunately other sections dragged the whole thing down. I would still recommend it, but if you’ve never read Mieville before maybe start somewhere else.
I bought this book