Review: Iron Council (New Crobuzon Book 3 of 3)

Iron Council - China MiƩville

This is the third and apparently final book in the New Crobuzon series.  I’ve now read three books by China Miéville, more or less in a row, and I’ve consistently found the following things to be true:

1. They were hard to get into at first.  On the first book, I got hooked on the story at around the 25% mark.  On the second and third books, I didn’t feel invested in the story until the 50% mark.

2. The stories do get interesting, eventually, if you can stick it out.  They have various twists throughout, and you probably won’t expect all of them.

3. The endings are pretty open-ended, and not everything ends happily.

4. The world is imaginative and, in many ways, unique.  A lot of detail is given to the scenery.  The races and the politics were also fleshed out pretty well.  However, the magic “system” is very nebulous.  In the third book, I really felt like the lack of a clearly-defined system hurt the story’s believability.

My ratings of the books in this series have steadily declined.  I gave 4 stars to Perdido Street Station, 3.5 to The Scar, and now 3 to this one.  If I’d rated Iron Council at around the 50% mark or earlier, I probably would have rated it at 2.5 or even lower.  This book had the roughest start for me out of the three.  I think, if there were more books in this series, I would probably have jumped off the train at this point anyway.

When the first chapter begins, we meet Cutter who’s on a journey to find some unknown (to the reader) person for some unknown reason.  A small group of people from some as-yet-unexplained group meet up with Cutter at the beginning of the chapter.  They’re willing to help with the search for various unknown reasons, but their decision to help went against the judgment of the aforementioned unexplained group who had recommended against the search for unknown reasons.  So now we’re headed off in some direction which for some unknown reason our characters believe is the right direction to go to find our unknown missing person.  Their progress on this endeavor unfolds over the first 55 or so pages in the book and some of the unexplained things do eventually get a little bit of explanation, but most of the details required to really understand all of the motivations and goals are revealed very slowly throughout the book.

In the beginning, I was frustrated and a little annoyed by all the unanswered questions.  That really isn’t a normal reaction for me.  As long as I get the answers eventually, I usually enjoy a book that fills me with questions.  I have fun trying to guess what’s going on and I tend to read more eagerly in search of the answers.  But for some reason I wasn’t at all motivated by the questions I had at the beginning of this book.  I don’t know if it was just too many questions, or if I wasn’t interested enough in the story or the characters at that point to really care, or if I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind for it.  

There was one lengthy section, making up about 25% of the book, written in a very different style from the rest of the book.  The most annoying aspect was that all the dialogue was preceded by a – symbol.  There were no quotation marks and no symbol to indicate the end of the dialogue.  There were no italics to differentiate dialogue from non-dialogue.  You just knew the dialogue had ended when you saw some obviously not-dialogue words such as “he says”, or when the paragraph ended.   Here’s a short example:  
     –This is for you, he says. –From the stiltspear.

Written more normally, the above text would have been written as:  “This is for you,” he says.  “From the stiltspear.”  I don’t know if this format had some deeper meaning and symbolism.  If it did, it went way over my head.  It wasn’t really that hard to follow, once you understood the pattern, but it was distracting and I kept wondering why the author didn’t just write using normal conventions so that I could focus on the story instead of being so distracted by its formatting.  

I also thought this book had more oddly-worded sentences than the author’s previous books and some weird word usage.  It eventually occurred to me to highlight a few examples so I could mention them in my review.  There were weirder things before I started highlighting, but here are a few of the things I highlighted:

1. This sentence fragment from page 353: “The raged workforce…”  At first I thought he meant ragged.  Then, based on the context from the rest of the sentence, I decided he meant enraged.  Then I thought, well, maybe raged is grammatically acceptable in this context but I just have never seen it that way?  And then I thought, “Grrr, once again weird wording has pulled me out of the story and I’ve completely lost my momentum.”  

2. From page 443, I thought this sentence was awkward and takes some time to parse and figure out what the author is trying to say: “Even there in the outskirts of the cacotopos land was liminal, half-worldly geography, half some bad-dream set.”

3. Finally, there were several instances where the author would say “one two” or something like that.  For example, this sentence from page 522: “Cutter turned and saw Rahul, two three seconds behind him, disappear momentarily around the corner and not emerge.”  Does he mean “two or three”?  That’s what I eventually decided based on context from the variety of sentences where he used this kind of structure.  If this had been early in a brand new series, I might have thought that people from this race counted seconds in threes and so two three seconds might mean six seconds.  But no, this was near the end of the last book and there hadn’t been anything to indicate that previously.

Wow, this was a really long and rambling review!  This book kind of drove me crazy at times, but the story did get better in the second half.  More than anything, I just got really frustrated with the writing style which seemed much harder to follow in this book than in previous books.  It had a decent story, and I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more if I hadn’t been constantly dragged out of it to analyze sentence structures.