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The Scar

The Scar is the third novel written by China Miéville, an extremely promising fantasy writer from London, England.

The story opens with the introduction of Bellis Coldwine, a cold, reserved writer from New Crobuzon, the setting of Perdido Street Station, Miéville's second novel. Bellis is attempting to reach Nova Esperium safely before agents of New Crobuzon can find her. The only other passager Bellis speaks at any length with is the bookish Johannes Tearfly, a scientist whose interests lie in megafauna and underwater sealife.

During this time aboard the we are also introduced to two other important characters aboard the ship. Shekel, a cabin boy, befriends Tanner Sack, a Remade (biomechanically augmented as a punishment for crimes) prisoner who is to be sold into slavery once the ship reaches Nova Esperium.

Before that can happen, Bellis, Shekel and Tanner and the rest of the ship are are captured by pirates. After killing the captain and first-mate, a mysterious figure in grey announces that the raiding party is from the floating city called the Armada. All the captives now face a choice: return with the pirates to Armada and become equal citizens of the city, or die.

Bellis and Tanner each react to their new surroundings in very different ways. Bellis finds herself longing for New Crobuzon, though ironically she was fleeing it for her life. Tanner, on the other hand, takes to his new home like a Remade duck to water. Facing a life of slavery, prison or worse Tanner realizes that Armada provides him a new chance at life. He collects his savings and undergoes further augmentation, remaking himself into an amphibious sea-creature.

Miéville describes Armada with an incredible attention to detail. His prose is equally elegant describing Armada's cobbled-together architecture, its hardy strains of food crops, its vast archives of books stolen from vessels and ports. Miéville's characters mark the most significant improvement over his previous works. They express and relate the more subtle characteristics of fear, boredom, companionship, betrayal and lust.

Caught up in all its symbolism and entendre, a reader might forget that this novel is set in a fantastic universe. It would be appropriate to describe Miéville's style as 'hard fantasy,' if such a term existed. He is equally adept at describing cactus-men and vampires as moving through spatial distortions and weapons that harness probability theory.

A number of poignant themes are interwoven throughout the novel. The most obvious is the imagery and meaning of the title, The Scar. In the story it is both a place and a destination, a wound and a healing, a mistake and a reminder.

Finally, we must acknowledge Miéville defying yet another convention of the fantasy/science fiction genres. The Scar is in not a sequel to Perdido Street Station. Indeed, the world is the same, but the characters and settings are very different. If anything, the two books are complementary, and extend the borders of the stories beyond the page and into the reader's imagination.

The Scar was shortlisted for the 2003 Arthur C. Clarke Award. Miéville won this award in 2001 for Perdido Street Station.

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