A hugely rich and wonderfully written fantasy novel that is weird weird weird and also deeply frustrating at other times.
So we begin with a long description of the city of New Crobuzon, which feels modeled slightly on a 19th century London, but also there’s a heavy mix of Russian cities, other fantasy cities, and plenty of originality. New Crobuzon’s city center is housed within this giant castle-like train station that acts as a hub and clearly has been repurposed over time. The city is multi-leveled, not in terms of skyscrapers like in say Bladerunner, but in terms of flying species (everything seems to fly — or not fly in this book) and flying machines.
We eventually settle on two main characters and character stories: Isaac a dilletantish thaumaturgist who is approached by a garuda, a flying bird-like species, who has been punished by his kind for an ambiguously defined crime and has had his wings removed; and Lin, an insect-humanoid (and Isaac’s lover) who is an artist approached with a underworld kingpin’s secret commission. These stories circulate and guide the rest of the novel.
The novel sometimes meanders in both good and bad ways, as it tells these two stories. There’s a near infinite amount of rich world-building to accomplish and it does a pretty solid job. It’s absolutely in body-horror at times, but also this other thing that horrifies me — the horror of infinite variability, which I often think about in terms of what if literature were infinite and we couldn’t even account for it all, especially read it. But in this book, it makes me that way about other species. In a lot of sci fi and fantasy I find that other species are just different looking humans, but here I very much feel that sense of entirely different brainwaves functioning, and it’s a little scary to me.