China MiÃ©ville has had some great books in the past: Perdido Street Station was very good, and his imagination and ability to create whole consistent worlds where his stories take place is unbelievable. However, this new book in this New Crobuzon universe leaves something to be desired. The story just seems to limp along, held up by the non-stop creation of new and weird sights the characters encounter. This gets really tiring after a while. It’s just page after page of “Gee! Lookee there!” type stuff that’s of little value to the reader or the plot.
He is also holding on to his ridiculous thesaurus fetish. In his previous books, you’d occasionally come across a word dropped casually into a sentence that would send you scrambling toward the dictionary. Not necessarily a bad thing, but they were used in contexts that made them seem out of place – like he discovered the word one day and purposefully created a situation where he could insert it into the story. I thought that he’d grow out of that. But unfortunately, it continues and just drags the book further into the toilet.
The plot centers around a group of characters seeking out the “Iron Council,” a rogue people with a locomotive that continually travels on a set of rails that are constantly pulled up and put down. It is a great premise, but most of the book is taken up by tedious travelogues of the various protagonists, again filled in by random encounters with the fantastic. This is mind-numbing stuff. By the “climax” of the novel, you’ve given up caring about the characters involved, the cause they are pushing, or what their motivations are. It just becomes a race to the end of the book so you can shelve it and move on to something else.