Rating: 3 out of 5
I picked up Perdido Street Station because I was looking for a good steampunk novel, especially after Dreadnought, and the reviews were strong. This book was supposed to be amazing, sweeping, and alluring – a detaile new world to explore. After finishing it, I felt the praise was overblown. The world is complex and involved, but the steampunk setting was wildly inconsistent. Though the book starts as hardcore steampunk, it eventually decomposes into low fantasy – all the trappings of industrial magic but no clear concept of what that would mean. Though much of the setting is explicit in using steam, there are “aetheric flows” and, for some reason, literally miles of insulated cabling in a society that seems to have very little electricity. There are zepplins, of course, and steam-driven automatons. But it all seems, well, lazy.
The story is OK but hardly epic. Its initiation and its resolution both depend on astonishing coincidence, of the sort that sinks high school writing. The characters have moments of depth and substance but never really take off. Character threads start and trail off to no resolution. The first part of the book is quite slow. The middle third is well-done and sets up situations and themes that offer much promise. Once the actual action starts, though, it all goes out the window and the plot lurches to its frenetic end a complete mess.
My overriding impressions is that China Meiville bit off way more than he coukd chew, and left us with the partly-masticated glop that was left over.