Perdido Street Station by China Mieville Review

Perdido Street Station is one of those works that was given the Steampunk label, but depending on how narrow of a definition you like to use for yourself, you may find it to be too far afield. For instance, the world of this book is pure fiction, no alternative future here. Several different species of sentient beings in addition to boring old humans populate the story. Some are insectile, others are cactus-like. As well as 7-foot tall bird people and these amphibious folks who can control water.

These different races all live together, but separately, in a huge industrial city. The setting serves as a great lens through which to approach some of the problems in the Victorian era with xenophobia. In a twist that would put a smile on Doctor Moreau’s face, criminals are not imprisoned or executed, but given surgical alterations. These implants mark them outwardly as untrustworthy. All in all, a fascinating and unique setting.

What is Perdido Street Station About?


The story centers on a Isaac, a scientist who is approached by one of these bird people. He violated some sort of law in his community and the punishment was to remove his wings. So he wants Isaac to find some way for him to fly again. To get a better handle on the issue, the scientist puts out a message through the both the university and black market channels. He wants to study all manner of flying animals, including larval forms.

But a strange caterpillar gets a hold of its true source of food and it pupates. And Isaac, as well as the whole city, get far more than they bargained for.

What I Thought of Perdido Street Station

I really enjoyed this book, but it is not for everyone. Mieville’s prose are fall on the Poe/Lovecraftian end of the spectrum, meaning that they are rich and visceral but not always pleasant.

I’ve had this title on my TBR list forever because I have seen it mentioned on several Steampunk lists. During a long trip, I got the unabridged version on audiobook. It was so long, carried me all the way from Minnesota to Ohio and back! I want to grab a print copy now and see what was cut in the “normal” version. But I have a feeling I already know. There are a series of vignettes that are beautifully written, but they are only tangential to the plot. Plus, they are written in a different POV than the rest of the book. By the end, I was really ready for it to be over, so I’d say go for the abridged version if all you want is the story. If you want to enjoy some beautiful writing and intensive world-building, check out the full version.

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