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Iron Council

New Crobuzon, Book 3
Written by: China Mieville
Narrated by: Gildart Jackson
Series: New Crobuzon, Book 3
Length: 21 hrs and 4 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (7 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Following Perdido Street Station and The Scar, acclaimed author China Miéville returns with his hugely anticipated Del Rey debut. With a fresh and fantastical band of characters, he carries us back to the decadent squalor of New Crobuzon - this time, decades later. 

It is a time of wars 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 city to the brink. 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. 

In the blood and violence of New Crobuzon’s most dangerous hour, there are whispers. It is the time of the iron council… 

The bold originality that broke Miéville out as a new force of the genre is here once more in Iron Council: the voluminous, lyrical novel that is destined to seal his reputation as perhaps the edgiest mythmaker of the day.

©2004 China Mieville (P)2014 Random House Audio

What the critics say

"Continuously fascinating.... Miéville creates a world of outrageous inventiveness." ( The Denver Post)

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

If you liked the series so far...

you will probably like this book too. Hard to get into in the beginning but worth it. I found this to be how it went for me with each of the books in the New Crobuzon Series.

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  • Jefferson
  • 2019-02-06

“we were, we are, we will be.”

Following Perdido Street Station (2000) and The Scar (2002), China Mieville's third Bas-Lag novel, Iron Council (2004), occurs at least 20 years after the events of the first book. All is not well in New Crobuzon, the powerful, vast city-state featured in Perdido Street Station. The city has been locked in an endless war against Tesh, a rival city-state on the other side of the world where the laws of physics and magic are different; horribly wounded veterans are sapping morale; the brutal militia are clamping down on insurrectionists; factions (like the xenophobic bowler-hat wearing Quillers) are attacking inhabitants they dislike (like the scarab-headed Khepri); and gangsters are ever active.

What is the Iron Council? It takes many pages to find out. That's because we first read a lot about a merchant called Cutter in the wilderness leading a small band of insurrectionists on an epic journey trying to catch up with the man he loves, Judah Lowe, a powerful golemetrist seeking the Council, and then about a naïve laborer called Ori in New Crobuzon leaving his all talk and no action ("too much yammer, not enough hammer") dissident group to join the rebel crime lord Toro. Then we plunge into a lengthy flashback (the best part of the novel) relating how about twenty years ago Judah became an idealistic autodidact golemetrist. Eventually we learn that a visionary New Crobuzon tycoon was pursuing his holy mission to push his Transcontinental Railroad Trust across the continent from coast to coast when the workers (including Remade slave laborers), camp followers (including prostitutes), and assorted TRT scientists and mages, mutinied over absent pay, took the train, and turned it into a “feral perpetual train,” pulling up track behind and laying it down before, unbuckling the past and making the future, making a contingent moment of railroad, “a rolling democracy. A Remade arcadia”: Iron Council.

The novel is full of Mieville’s fertile imagination, usually at work making monstrous chimera, whether natural or artificial. His chimerical imagination drives his approach to genre, as this novel combines genres like epic fantasy, science fiction, horror, western, exploration adventure, political fable, crime caper, and same-sex romance. Technology rubs shoulders with thamaturgy, “normal” humans kiss Remade humans, and divine and semi-divine beings show up now and then.

I like his exploration of the science and magic of golemetry (an intervention in the natural still state of inanimate matter so as to shift it into another form that moves with a kind of sentience), his conception of the perpetual train “renegapolis,” his audacious attempt at a climax interruptus, his politicizing of things like love, theater, war, justice, and capitalism, his avoidance of cheap sentimentality, his refusal to make his readers feel good, but instead to challenge them and provoke them and stir them up in constructive ways.

Mieville can write. When he gets going on a poetic riff, whether sublime or profane, he really goes: "Elsie remembered the air burials she had heard of among northern tribes, women and men of the tundra, who let their dead rest in open coffins under balloons, sent them skywards through the cold air and clouds, to drift in air streams way above the depredations of insects or birds or rot itself, so the stratosphere over their hunt lands was a catacombs, where explorers by dirigible encountered none but the frost mummified dead."

He fashions myriad cool, grotesque, and or beautiful things, like a monk who literally trades something he/she knows in return for something hidden or lost, the Stiltspear marsh people who chant their prey still, a "susurrator" who controls people by whispering in their minds, five-fingered military handlingerer parasites who wear animal or human bodies, elementarii who command elemental monsters, kinetiphage motion demons who gorge on sounds, and golems made of shadow, light, air, sound, and time. Mieville details all those and many more with a feverish poetic flair.

In fact, that becomes a problem. As Cutter muses at one point when he’s traveling through the Cacotopic Stain, a dread unmapped region where land and air and time are sick, “where monsters are made . . . a viral landscape . . . of pathological parturition," "We don't even see it no more. . . You can get used to the most monstrous absurdity." So Mieville's profligate imagination for monstrous chimeras begins to numb, as when he describes a sublime and scary moonlight elemental and then botches it by making it a fish-bear-rat-horned-firefly-deathmoth thing.

Moreover, although New Crobuzon is a vivid creation, a vibrant and decadent city with districts, towers, trains, repressive government, and motley population comprised of garden variety humans, arcane races (including cactus people, aquatic people, and beetle people), the Remade (criminals sent to punishment factories to gain all manner of grotesque animal, insectoid, and machine appendages), and singers, scientists, thamaturges, laborers, dissidents, merchants, militia, and so on we have been there before in Perdido Street Station, and its coolness wears a little thin here. And although Cutter and Judah are great (and sf-fantasy novels could use more homosexual or bisexual main characters like them), Iron Council hosts fewer compelling characters than Perdido Street Station and The Scar.

People who like Mieville’s first two Bas-Lag books should like this one. People new to Mieville should start with either of the earlier books. People who like weird sf that melds multiple genres, who like to view the world as a political creation, and who appreciate rich prose should like this book.

The audiobook reader Gildart Jackson does a professional job voicing all the many different kinds of characters in different kinds of moods.

3 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Tim
  • 2016-03-11

Very Close to the First

The first book in this trilogy was my very first introduction to China Mieville. I dug "Perdido Street Station" and read almost every book from this author after that. It took me a few years to finish New Crobuzon Trilogy because I didn't believe that he could beat "Perdido Street Station." I thought that "The Scar" was well done, but not better than the first.

After starting this series three years ago, I finally wanted to finish the train saga with "Iron Council." The last book is my favorite in this series. I think that the "Iron Council" is far better than the second and very close to the first. I liked the drama from the council,more monsters, remade, the train and realism of each characters.

Mr. Mieville has a special talent of approaching science fiction and fantasy in a different way. It's almost addicting to read any of his books.

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  • BTYC
  • 2017-09-30

Heavy hitting but ultimately a storyline miss

Written in his classic way - this story aims for lofty narrative ambitions but falls well short of China's other great works (thinking of The Scar & Perdido Street Station).

Still full with the awe and magic that runs through his work, here I found myself uncaring about the plot, lives, motivations and ultimately the fates of the characters we encounter.

While a nice addition to Bas Lag's world-building, this is a read for fans of the series, but a pass for others not initiated in the world

2 people found this helpful

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  • Dennis
  • 2016-08-11

Quite good

I loved this book, more than Perdido St Station but much less than The Scar. It did seem like a bit of a reuse of the idea of The Scar, a mobile renegade utopia of quasi-criminals constantly on the run through the wilderness, instead of the sea. However I found this to be compelling because of Judah. His relationships and talents and demeanor seemed very real and I thought his bisexuality was well handled. We need more representation in fiction as real people, it wasn't the only character point for him as queerness sometimes can be.

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  • vurnt22
  • 2015-03-06

Incredible end to a FABULOUS Trilogy

If you crossed Tolkien with Verne, Martin with Lovecraft, & Dickens with Burroughs fused with the political sensibility of Orwell you get a sense of the breadth & daring of the radical & visionary Fantasy author China Miéville. His imaginary world of Bas-Lag is one of the great creations of modern literature, by turns Cinematic, Grand, earthy, & profane. Miéville's vision is both kinetic & subtle, erudite & punk, Victorian & Post Modern. The fictional city of New Crobazon is epic, terrible, and awesomeness in equal thirds. The Iron Council equals the power & grandeur of the previous 2 novels of the New Crobazon trilogy Perdido Street Station, & The Scar. Iron Council goes where few novels in the Fantasy genre date to go with extraordinary assuredness & style.

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  • Kristopher F Grows
  • 2019-06-25

Ended with a whimper, if that.

I think Mieville was trying so hard to make a point with this one that he got in his own way, both failing to engagingly tell a story and failing to effectively make the point. Even the talked about gay romance in it wasn't actually there, it was one character's codependent obsession that never evolved or changed the character in any way. The relationship had no arc, the characters largely had no arcs. It was like reading a biography of a particularly boring model train enthusiast, and that is with Mieville's typical weirdness thrown in, which itself was lacking this time.

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  • Nat M. Zorach
  • 2018-11-27

loved the first two-- this one was a struggle

Iron Council has some clever new ideas, but its characters have less depth and less quirk than the previous two books.

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  • VonBrewskie
  • 2018-03-17

Ol' "Bittersweet Mieville" strikes again!

I'm a big fan of Mieville's work. The man writes elegantly. Every description, every scene, every character drips with atmosphere and purpose. His writing curls through your mind, campfire smoke rising through pine boughs into an open, starry sky. You live in his worlds. You stand beside his characters and cry with them, share their joy, feel their pain deeply in your chest. He pulls you through languid waves of joyous dread and prickling anticipation across every page. This story is not to be missed. A+

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  • Shidobu
  • 2016-11-07

A choppy telling of a mediocre story

Like the first two New Crobuzon books, Iron Council is an unbelievably dense and complex bit of writing with intricacies that are clearly present in the author's mind, but unlike the other two, this book does a poor job laying them out in a way that keeps the reader interested. Worse yet, the story is hard to get hooked on due to the choppy timeline leaving the reader questioning the point of the book more than once. Disappointing, but not terrible.

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  • Robert Romeo Cote
  • 2015-03-20

worth the listen

A difficult and occasionally obtuse book hard to get through, but infinitely worth it in the end.

1 person found this helpful