Review: Embassytown

Posted: August 19, 2011 by in Books We Love (5/5 single_star) Meta: China Miéville, Science Fiction

My dad and I have an ongoing argument. My dad seems to think that China Miéville (Amazon) is a superior work to THE SCAR (Amazon), which is also by Miéville and set in the same world as PERDIDO. While I know better. THE SCAR is better, better plotted, cooler stuff. In one thing we are agreed, however. In my opinion THE SCAR is a 10 (on a scale of one to ten, ten being perfect) whereas PERDIDO is a 9.9. For my dad it’s PERDIDO that gets the 10 and THE SCAR the measly 9.9. They are both good books. Fantastic books, genre-altering books.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because EMBASSYTOWN (Amazon), the latest novel by China Miéville, is probably a strong 9.8 in my opinion. Easily my favorite of Miéville’s books since THE SCAR.

EMBASSYTOWN was what I expected from THE CITY AND THE CITY. It’s a brilliant novel based on a very cool central premise surrounded by vivid weird imagery that only Miéville can provide on this scale

Now how do I explain EMBASSYTOWN? Every time I felt I was getting a good grasp on the novel, Miéville would change directions and throw me another curve ball. I could say it’s about a girl named Avice who lived in Embassytown and showed that she could become an immerser: one who could travel the immer between worlds awake and transport starships. But it’s not about that. I could tell you it’s about an alien race who speak simultaneously through two mouths. These aliens are unable to understand their same speech spoken back to them unless it is through a conscious being (computers don’t work) and even are unable to understand it unless a mental link exists between the two speakers. They are unable to lie and unable to speak in the abstract. They create living breathing metaphors for concepts they long to describe. But it’s not really about that. It’s about addiction. It’s about politics. It’s about language and truth and meaning.


I raced through this book. I loved the ideas and concepts. I found myself going over and over again, in my mind, the ramifications of the dilemmas of the characters. I found myself thinking back to experiences in my own life. This book is amazing. It was everything I wanted it to be and then a little more.

This is Miéville writing straight up Science Fiction for the first time (you could argue technically that the Bas-Lag novels are SF, but they are something else altogether), but it’s not SF like you’ve ever seen. Mieville isn’t worried about explaining the cool technology of the world so much as the aliens, and even then it’s not the outward appearance that counts but the utterly alien viewpoint. The Hosts, as they are called in the book, are something truly extraordinary. They are alien beings in every sense of the world offering a different way of looking on life, the universe and everything. These are not Star Trek aliens, these are real, different, intelligent beings.

As with most of Miéville’s books, the city, Embassytown, shows itself as almost another viewpoint character. That might be one of the reasons I love Miéville’s work so much. I feel like these are real, living, breathing, gritty places. Not necessarily places I want to live, but real, nonetheless.

EMBASSYTOWN explores the implications of language and truth and humanity expertly. This guy is seriously good at what he does. Every time.

If I were to find a flaw with the book it would be the narrator, Avice. She goes through the plot of the novel, experiencing and even engaging in the major events, yet I got the feeling that she was merely a vehicle to drive the story forward. I never got a handle on her, or her character. She was there to tell the story, to show it to us, but nothing more.

But what a story it is. Several times I felt the book coming to a crescendo only to have another twist and another problem thrown in my face. The book explores the implications of language and truth and humanity expertly. I can only hope that Miéville writes more in this world. Given his track record however, whatever he writes will be worth picking up and reading.

  • Recommended Age: 16+ It’s a complicated book with some deep concepts
  • Language: Surprisingly light for Miéville. Still a bit, but not a ton.
  • Violence: A few deaths and other things, but it never seemed graphic to me
  • Sex: It's Miéville. Of course sex is talked about. It doesn't get too graphic in this one, but it is definitely mentioned... as are threesomes.

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