Author: China Miéville
Publication Date: 1/1/02
Publisher: Del Rey
Blurb(GR): Aboard a vast seafaring vessel, a band of prisoners and slaves, their bodies remade into grotesque biological oddities, is being transported to the fledgling colony of New Crobuzon. But the journey is not theirs alone. They are joined by a handful of travelers, each with a reason for fleeing the city. Among them is Bellis Coldwine, a renowned linguist whose services as an interpreter grant her passage—and escape from horrific punishment. For she is linked to Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, the brilliant renegade scientist who has unwittingly unleashed a nightmare upon New Crobuzon.
For Bellis, the plan is clear: live among the new frontiersmen of the colony until it is safe to return home. But when the ship is besieged by pirates on the Swollen Ocean, the senior officers are summarily executed. The surviving passengers are brought to Armada, a city constructed from the hulls of pirated ships, a floating, landless mass ruled by the bizarre duality called the Lovers. On Armada, everyone is given work, and even Remades live as equals to humans, Cactae, and Cray. Yet no one may ever leave.
Lonely and embittered in her captivity, Bellis knows that to show dissent is a death sentence. Instead, she must furtively seek information about Armada’s agenda. The answer lies in the dark, amorphous shapes that float undetected miles below the waters—terrifying entities with a singular, chilling mission. . . .
Scars are funny things. They are traumas long past. They are reminders of people we’ve known and places we’ve been. They are healing; they are memory; they are history. Scars can change us into something brand new; scars can show the world that we’ve been irreparably broken. Scars are full of Possibility.
And so, The Armada: a place where new scars are made and old ones fall away. A massive floating city, cobbled together with stolen and salvaged boats, stolen and salvaged people. Slaves, servants, the remade, the ab-dead, all the oppressed lower castes of Bas-Lag: in The Armada they are reborn as citizens or even leaders. The Armada is a blurred place, a place of change. It’s a place where a man like Tanner Sack, medically altered into something inhuman and imprisoned aboard a slave ship bound for a new world, can breathe free. It’s a place where a young sailor with too much experience and too many prejudices can let them all go and find love. It’s a place where a young maid and a boy from a misogynistic village can join and become the most charismatic leader The Armada has ever known.
And then there’s Bellis Coldwine, standing out in sharp definition against all the blur. She’s a woman who decided long ago who she was going to be and she doesn’t want to change. She’s tightly contained within her fully-realized self. Reluctantly fleeing from the scrutiny of the ruthless New Crobuzon authorities, she wants nothing more than to return home someday – a goal which becomes impossible when she’s captured and claimed by The Armada. Bellis can see the opportunities that some of her less fortunate shipmates have been given, but still she is stubborn. She holds onto her need to return home like it’s armor.
“No, she thought fiercely, uncompromisingly. Whatever the truth, whatever the case, however hopeless the cause – I do not give up on escape. It had taken her quite some effort to reach this coldly burning pitch of anger, of desire for escape, and to relinquish it now would be unbearable.”
What happens next is a thrilling, mind-blowingly imaginative high seas journey through nightmares and mysteries – each more jaw-dropping and unique than the last. This author just knocks my socks off with the sheer power of his imagination. There are enough ideas, worlds, and species in this book alone to kindle a hundred others. And yet, he just tosses them out there like peanuts.
This story could have so easily become garish b-movie material, with its panoply of grotesqueries: flesh-melting neon green spit, anus-mouths, insectoid people, cactus people (seriously), and giant underwater behemoths. But it NEVER does! Everything he writes is so…emotional and profound; it never feels cheap. How he managed to break my heart with slavering, murderous mosquito women I’ll never know!
The writing here really shouldn’t work and yet somehow it feels absolutely right and perfect. The story shifts from past to present tense, from first person to third person, from one narrator to another. It seems almost cobbled together. And yet it never feels stilted or odd. It flows. Like The Armada itself, this motley assortment of prose somehow bridges together and reforms into a sweeping, effortless picture.
And here’s the thing I love the most about this book: that picture, that story, with all of its suspense and catharsis and death, was just a beginning.
“And I feel, for all that has happened, as if it is now, only now in these days, that my journey is beginning. I feel as if this – even all this – has been a prologue.”
I have been a fan of China Mieville for a while, but this book is by far my favorite.
Perfect Musical Pairing
Bon Iver - Perth