This was an exceptional book, I’m still not sure what to make of it.
Set entirely in a city called New Crobuzon this is a secondary world, weird urban fantasy. It has a kind of late 19th, early 20th century technology vibe to it with steam powered machines and automations, magic (thaumaturgy) is present but is treated as just another science and doesn’t really play too much of a part in the story.
The city itself is really the main character here. It is described so vividly you can taste it, and I really don’t want to taste New Crobuzon. I’ve never read a book that both fascinated and repulsed me so much through its descriptions, honestly my stomach heaved a few times. It’s the re-made that caused this most of the time. They are people, both human and non-human, that have been physically altered through magic with mechanical or biological changes. Mostly for some crime or another but in New Crobuzon that is easy to happen. They are changed in punishment factories and some of those changes are throughly horrific. I won’t go into too much detail, I’ll leave that dubious pleasure to you, but I think what was so disturbing was that it was all treated so casually, people feel sorry for them but think hey, what can I do about it?
New Crobuzon is home to a vast number of creatures. The main ones we get to know are humans, khepri (body of a human woman, head of a scarab beetle), weird Cactus people, garuda (bird-like creatures) and a whole host more.
Isaac is a scientist, working on his own research into ‘crisis theory’, when he gets a commission from Yagharek, a garuda who’s wings have been chopped off for an unnamed crime, and this research inadvertently causes a major crisis for the city itself. We also have Lin, a khepri artist who is Isaac’s girlfriend, as well as a few other characters. They are all richly drawn and feel real. They are certainly not heroes, just ordinary beings in a very weird city trying to deal with something they feel responsible for.
One of the only negative things I have to say about this book is Lin’s storyline. It disappears about half way through and only resumes toward the end, and I’m not entirely sure of her purpose in the story, especially as her own agent.
The book starts slow, almost slice of life for good portion on the beginning but this is great, you actually need this to get a handle on the setting. The last part does have the trappings of a monster hunt but oh in such a great way. I still haven’t mentioned the self aware automation, the inter-dimensional spider, the ambassador from hell, or the giant sloth like creatures that feed on dreams and consciousness have I? Well it’s all in here along with a host of other weird and strange things.
This is a work of mad imagination and I have never read anything like it before and I’ve read a lot of books. Thoroughly recommend if you want something that’s totally different.
5 stars out of 5