Book Reviews: Iron Council

Iron Council Iron Council by China Miéville

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I was angered by this book. Angered, discomforted, distressed, and emotionally drained. I, like Ann-Hari, felt robbed; as though the ending of my journey had been stolen and turned into a tourist destination. I AM angry at Judeh, the self taught thaumaturge golemist, who with a clever use of deus ex machina stopped history in its tracks.

It is one of the few books where when I was finished, I had to go have a cry; I lamented the end as I have grieved for very few imaginary characters. And unlike most books, I haven’t been able to pick up another book immediately. Rather, I’ve wandered around in a fugue for a day or so, replaying the book in my mind, trying to tease the threads that have so upset me.

Perhaps the stage for the book is better set if you are familiar with “To the Finland Station“, written by Edmund Wilson in 1940. In it, historian Wilson defines the thoughts and theories expressed on train ride of Jules Michelet, Henri de Saint-Simon, Robert Owen, Mikhail Bakunin, Anatole France, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Leon Trotsky, and Vladimir Ilich Lenin–who arrived at Petrograd’s Finland Station in 1917 to lead the Bolshevik revolution. This book could very well have been titled “To Perdido Station”.

That Miéville is also speaking of the state of perpetual war that we find ourselves in cannot be overlooked, but the overwhelming theme of the book is the impact of revolution, sedition, and self proclaimed saviors who ride out of mythology to change the face of history. That it leaves the reader feeling hopeless and incapable of fighting the powers that be; well perhaps that’s just my reading of it. I took away a particularly existential feeling, but perhaps that reading is more impacted by the current state of American politics than the book itself. I may be over-thinking this.

The voiceless hero of the entire book is the Train, which itself encompasses the Iron Council; a train-town of former slaves and indentured workers who decades ago revolted against their masters and carved out a path into the unexplored wilds of western Bas-Lag. It constantly moves, putting down new track as it rips up the old, over and over, the first to cross the continent, in a never-ending journey of freedom and hope. As such, it is the most powerful revolutionary tool in New Crobuzon. The government wants it crushed before it can return to the city as a beacon of hope, and the revolutionaries want it to arrive for the same reason.

But in the end; is the Iron Council more valuable as myth?

This book is very dense, filled with Miéville’s signature linguistic style, extraordinarily violent, and extremely political. It is not an easy read. It isn’t even necessarily a fun read. It is, however, absolutely stunning in its genius. I do not regret the investment of time and emotion that I put into reading this book.

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