Thursday, April 17, 2014

Throwback Thursday Review: EMBASSYTOWN, by China Mieville

Embassytown, by China Miéville. Published 2011 by Random House. Hardcover.

"I can make things bad for you," Ez kept shouting. "There are things I could say."

Embassytown, the latest novel from acclaimed British writer China Miéville, takes as its theme language and the power it can have over us all. Like many of Miéville's books, this one starts with a city, the city of the title. Embassytown exists in the far future, on a distant planet humans have settled. It's kind of a border town between human civilization and that of the Ariekei, an enigmatic race to whom the planet belongs. The Ariekei, or the Hosts,  speak a language so difficult that only specially-trained Ambassadors can communicate with them, so the Ariekei remain an enigma to all but this very select group of people. Avice Benner Cho, the protagonist and narrator, is not one of these people, but she's something even more important. Avice is a simile.

When Avice was a child, she was recruited to perform a task for the extremely literal-minded Ariekei so that they could enrich their language (so iconic it's simply referred to as Language) with figurative speech. Since then, she's traveled through the immer, or deep space, had a career, been married, and generally had a life. There are others like her as well, other similes, and the first breakdown of Language has a profound effect on them. Other key players include an ex-Ambassador named Bren, Avice's husband Scile, and a new Ambassador who is unlike the others, and whose use of Language wrecks a havoc that changes Ariekei society forever.

Embassytown is the kind of book that unrolls slowly, and you'll want Miéville's own extremely skillful use of language to wash over you. Unlike The City and The City, a tight, plot-centric blend of genres, Embassytown is more straight-up science fiction and less about plot and more about the language itself. In other words, it's not a fast read, or a particularly gripping page-turner. I found it to be long and dense, but I kept going because Miéville sets up such a remarkably complex and detailed world and made me care about the Ariekei and their extremely unusual problem. The novel is as rich with ideas as it is neologisms, and even when I couldn't tackle more than a few pages at a time, I never seriously considered putting Embassytown down for good. Miéville is a major talent whom literary readers would do well to get to know. As Miéville wrote in my copy of the book, "Hope you enjoy this linguistic apocalypse!"

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.


Mystica said...

An author I've seen often on another blog I follow. Not got to it yet. This sounds good.

Mystica said...

An author I've seen often on another blog I follow. Not got to it yet. This sounds good.

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I really hate it when I keep meaning to read an author and I never pick their books up. Such the case with Mr. Mieville... argh! I'm drawn in by futuristic books even though I struggle at times with their imaginings. His work tends to be one that is always highly recommended, so it's annoying to me that I keep waiting to dive into his work. Based on your review, it may make more sense for me to start with THE CITY AND THE CITY versus this one. Good to know!

Anonymous said...

As someone who comes from small nation, I found "Embassytown" so fascinating on question of change. And the description of outsider scientists resisting the change needed for survival and cooperation sounded so familiar to me also!

This is a book that I would recommend and love hearing opinions about.

Also, I enjoyed some fan art on the topic and want to ask - is this how you imagined Ariekei to look like?