China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station is the first of three novels set in the Miéville’s Bas-Lag universe. First released in 2000, Perdido Street Station and its sequels have made China Miéville one of the most acclaimed fantasy writers of the 21st century. Perdido Street Station is an outstanding urban fantasy full of unconventional plot twists and the most unlikely of heroes.
Yagharek is a “Garuda,” or a humanoid bird. However, for crimes he committed among his people, Yagharek’s wings have been removed and he has been exiled from his home. When we meet him, Yagharek has made his way to New Crobuzon, the greatest city in the world, where he hopes to find someone who can help him fly again. He finds Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, a scientist who works on the fringes of New Crobuzon’s academic community. Always curious, Isaac accepts Yagharek’s challenge, in part to help finance his ongoing study of chaos energy.
Isaac’s curiosity also brings into his possession two mysterious, stunted larvae that begin to grow only after they are fed “dreamshit,” a powerful hallucinogen. These larvae grow until they metamorphose into slake-moths, horrifying predators capable of paralyzing their prey before feeding on their dreams. The slake-moths escape Isaac’s laboratory and begin to terrorize the city. Soon after, the residents of New Crobuzon begin to wake up to news of a mysterious new illness, one that leaves its victim comatose.
What can defeat a slake-moth?
Not much. In order to prove this, Miéville launches a host of monsters and creatures against the slake-moths. When the authoritarian Mayor of New Crobuzon, Bentham Rudgutter, summons demons from hell, they refuse to help. Rudgutter next turns to handlingers, parasitic hands that take over their hosts while also imbuing them with the powers to fly and to spit fire. They fail. Finally, Rudgutter resorts to the Weaver, a multi-dimensional spider driven to protect the aesthetics of reality in New Crobuzon. Chaos takes hold of New Crobuzon as the slake-moths continue to prey upon Miéville’s beloved city.
Beyond any doubt, there is a great deal going on here, and Miéville clearly enjoys introducing his readers to all of the back alleys and shady bars that make up New Crobuzon. Initially, this tour gets off to a slow start, but by the climax of the novel, readers will likely be hooked not only on the story of Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin and the slake-moths, but also on Miéville’s work as a whole. Although Miéville’s early writing is a little choppy — and he pugnaciously insists on overusing words like “pugnacious” — he is also capable of vivid descriptions of place. Yagharek’s exploration of New Crobuzon is especially memorable.
Miéville has achieved a great deal in this novel, and it’s a story that has earned him a loyal fan base, not to mention numerous awards. The excitement of Perdido Street Station is very much the excitement found in a truly urban city, one where even the hippest residents struggle to keep up with what is going on.