Iron Council is China Mieville's third book set in the world of Bas Lag, first introduced to us in cityscape format in Perdido Street Station and then via the sprawling seas of The Scar. And whilst the world might be the same, and whilst we do indeed return to his most luscious of creations, the city of New Crobuzon, this book is on a different level altogether from the previous two. Not necessarily better, but certainly different.
Stylistically, Iron Council is Mieville's most plot-centric novel, told through three different narratives, two of which are directly concerned with the peripatetic movements of the eponymous Iron Council, a wondrously inventive train of revolution, whilst the other is based around the movements of a New Crobuzonian dissident.
The central theme for each of them is rebellion, specifically against the oppressive state of the New Crobuzon government and its indiscriminate militia, but the real interest lies in the separate motivations for their rebellion - ennui, love, selfishness, righteousness, hatred - and in what their individual acts of rebellion means to them and reduces them to.
Invariably the three intertwine as the story progresses and reaches climax, but each individual journey is beautifully and patiently woven into the greater scheme of things, before being satisfyingly amalgamated in conclusion. The ending itself is a wonderful, multi-faceted thing where you experience the differing empathies of each central character as if they were vying parts of your own self. It is, in simple terms, the finest ending to a book I have come across. The payoff is utterly compulsive and rewarding.
The overall intentions of Iron Council are grander than previous offerings. Where socio-political themes and polemics were natural by-products of PSS and The Scar, here they are overt and integral, as both a plot device and in its desire to deliver a message (thought-provoking and ambiguous, brilliantly so) to the reader. Invariably the author's choice to inject the story with his own political ideals will isolate some readers, but this need not be the case. For whilst conservatives may baulk at the idea of reading a leftist treatise of speculative fiction, Mieville's idealistic protagonists don't always have the answer to the serious questions raised of their belief system.
Some things, thankfully, stay the same: Mieville's sense of the grotesque is once more given free reign, yet again to startling effect, and the sense of mileu - much more difficult to paint outside of the corrupted and corrupting walls of New Crobuzon - are breathtaking, recalling the vivd vistas of an Hieronymoys Bosch painting.
Iron Council is a complex, awkward read, but brilliant for it. It is layered, careful, and patient, and demands its reader be the same.
Whilst Perdido Street Station and The Scar are his most obvious triumphs, I suspect Iron Council is the book that China Mieville is most proud of.
The third novel in his amazing imaginative sequence focused on the fabulous city of New Crobuzon and its very special world It is a time of revolts 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 metropolis to the brink. In the midst of this turmoil, 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, an undying legend. In the blood and violence of New Crobuzon's most dangerous hour, there are whispers. It is the time of the Iron Council.