#CBR4 Maneuver #26 – Iron Council
Profile: Speculative Fiction, Weird Fantasy, Politics, Bas-Lag
Summary: From the hardcover edition, “It is a time of wars and revolutions, conflict and intrigue. New Crobuzon is being ripped apart from without and within. War with the shadowy city-state of Tesh and rioting on the streets at home are pushing the teeming city to the brink. A mysterious masked figure spurs strange rebellion, while treachery and violence incubate in unexpected places.
In desperation, a small group of renegades escapes from the city and crosses strange and alien continents in the search for a lost hope.
In the blood and violence of New Crobuzon’s most dangerous hour, there are whispers. It is the time of the Iron Council. . . .”
After Action Report:
I’ve been having some trouble getting traction on this review. Not because I don’t know what to say about the book, but because everything I’d say has already been said. If you go to the Wiki page for Iron Council you’ll find a fantastic summary of the events of the book, along with snippets of some of the better reviews, both positive and negative. They touch on the book’s overt politics, it’s relatively anemic setting development and the unique perspective China Miéville brings to the fantasy genre. I’ve been somewhat verbose on these topics in my other reviews of Miéville’s Bas-Lag novels. But between those and the internet’s surfeit of quality opinion, I’m finding myself without much to say.
What should be said is that Iron Council is an excellent book, in spite of critical opinion. It is a less than stellar entry in the Bas-Lag sequence of books but it still stands well on its own. It is also exemplar of Miéville’s literary philosophy and worth reading for that reason alone. It is probably the most political piece of fantasy you’ll ever read, stuffed to the brim with socialist rhetoric, liberal ideals and a cast of dissidents and nonconformists. But if you don’t let the message get in the way of the great story and Iron Council will start to feel a whole lot more like Perdido Street Station.
Iron Council is still a tough read. Like Perdido, it expects you to be able to parse unfamiliar words in the middle of action sequences and entirely original concepts at the drop of a hat. I prefer to view this as a selling point, rather than an obstacle to enjoyment, but here as everywhere, your mileage may vary.
Miéville’s Bas-Lag books are frequently cited as one of the only example of a modern approach to fantasy. The unique approach to world building, politics and even the characters set Bas-Lag aside as a perfect example of what can be accomplished when tradition and trope are thrown out the window. Even today, when the fantasy shelves are dominated urban fantasy and steampunk, Miéville’s books manage to maintain a singular and unapproachable feel while incorporating many ideas from both sub-genres. What makes his books valuable is his somewhat singular imagination combined with a top notch literary mind and deep understanding language. The books may be hard, but is there any better feeling than really being challenged by what you read? I tend to think not.