A novel about bird law and bird persons
This belongs to the "etoliated" class of fantasy novels, along with _Viriconium_ and _A Stranger in Olondria_. These are fantasy novels with fancy words, fancy authors, and meaty, industrial strength writing. For Perdido, the story is fantasy, and it involves monsters and magic and frogmen and birdmen and bugmen and far more exotic things. However, it is also a novel which is focused on the details of life in the city, things like semi-normal human relationships, breakfasts, dinner dates, careers, publishing, transport, street food, clothes, political structure and parties, economic structure, corruption, unrest, strikes, unions, policing, informing, etc. etc. etc. So while the subject matter is fantastic, its treatment is in many cases down to earth and intelligent. I say many cases, since the book is many things. There are social sections which could be set in modern New York, there are other sections devoted entirely to city infrastructure (actually reminded me a bit of Hunchback of Notre Dame; you have a normal book with a 50 page architectural history lesson randomly inserted into it), while others parts of the book are these almost dream sequences of the sporting of aerial, trans-dimensional monsters. And as many people have said before, the city itself is one of the characters here (New Crobuzon, population 6 million, Republican paradise, where you are not the customer you are the product in like six different ways), with enormous amounts of attention paid to its different districts, neighborhoods, and tourist features.
So, the next question is, "Is it good?" and in general the answer is yes. Many of the main story sections are compelling, and many of the shorter vignettes outside the main story are delightful. Mieville is inventive and skilled, and has no problem at all in pouring out one idea, contraption, creature, or magic system after another. There were rough spots though, and several of the sections did not work. In general, I felt like I was not entirely aligned with the author. It's a bit like watching a Tarantino movie; yes the creator is skilled, but he also intentionally inserts a certain amount of grit or unpleasantness into the mix. The end result is somewhat more impressive than it is likable. So, some concrete examples. One is that I was not as on board with the city descriptions as the author was. There is an immense amount of verbiage dedicated to describing the neighborhoods of the city, as well as the various roads and canals between them. A certain amount of this ok to give character to the place, but in this book I thought it was overdone. Similarly, there is at least one section deep into the book (maybe at page 600 out of 720 pages total?), where the author goes into 30 pages of detail of laying a cable across part of the city. And once I saw what was happening, I just started skimming and skipping until I got to the end of that section. Which is generally not what you want your reader to do at what should be the climax of the story. There were a few other parts that didn't work; the idea and description of "crisis energy" was just dumb, and I was only able to get around it by mentally translating it to "perpetual motion machine" and then skipping any other wording associated with it. There are also a few spots where I felt like Mieville was running into the same problem that he had in _Kracken_, of continually introducing new fantastic elements without ever processing the previous elements. This tendency is not as bad in this novel though, and it is mitigated by the fact that you expect more fantastic elements from a fantastic city. Oh! And one final quibble, the moral question at the end of the novel seemed a bit silly given that they had just finished murdering a few dozen police officers.
So! To sum up my thoughts on Perdido, I would say that it is... better than Viriconium. Two Viriconiums maybe.