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“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” 
― Stephen King, On Writing.

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"If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals."— J.K. Rowling

Iron Council  - China Miéville Iron Council is China Miéville's most overtly political fiction work, but don't pigeonhole it. Between the revolutionary fervor, fantasy, trains, and Western-like parts runs a common theme of love and the painful, desperate, doomed human longing. I loved this book. It was not the insta-love like it was with "The Scar" but a long, careful, slow-to-build-up affair that by the end of the story fully blossomed. This book is fascinating, passionate, brutal at times, thought-provoking and deliberately anger-inducing. But at the same time, it's like Miéville deliberately made it not as easy to love as his other works. Let me explain.I've read 4 Miéville's books by now, and I think one of his greatest strengths as a storyteller is the ability to not just create amazingly imaginative and creative universes but also to lovingly make the setting of the story a true protagonist. "Perdido Street Station" was the ode to New Crobuzon; "The Scar" was a love song for Armada; "The City & The City" was a story about the divide between Beszél and Ul Qoma. Here, however, we are taken on the quest, getting glimpses into many different corners of Bas Lag, only quick looks at the really changed New Crobuzon, and for a while only a teasing promise of the titular Iron Council. Yes, eventually I did love Iron Council, but it took so long to get there that it never became the same real character as Miéville's other locales did.But once I got past the grief of not falling in love with a geographical location, I was able to fully appreciate and passionately love the painful and difficult themes of this book. The ramifications of Crobuzonian politics, only glimpsed in the first two novels, finally take the center stage. Miéville is not subtle about where he stands on social rights and inequalities, and I loved the passionate and open expression of his views. It is not difficult to draw parallels between our less-than-perfect society obsessed with money, power, greed, and inequality, and the world of New Crobuzon, on the verge of collapse and catastrophe.New Crobuzon, the (in)famous festering filth of a city, believe it or not, has changed for the worse. The political oppression is at its worst, it's basically under the martial law, the xenophobia is at its height due to an undergoing war, the poverty and corruption are appalling, and no wonder that social dissatisfaction and unrest are brewing. Instead of exciting time on the barricades, however, we get to take a look into the heart of the brewing revolution - the tensions between revolutionary factions, the differences between the 'talkers' and the anarchists, the plottings, the mistrust, the fear. The oppressiveness is palpable, the atmosphere is rotten and suffocating, and the overall effect on the reader is powerful.At the same time, we get to see even more of the single greatest horror and injustice of the Crobuzonian system - the Remade. The horrific bodily remaking that the criminals (including the political ones) undergo marks them as outcasts, permanent slaves, nobodies, people below the regard of society. They were briefly shown in PSS; their plight was mentioned in "The Scar". But it is only in Iron Council that we get to see more of the ramifications of this. We get to see their suffering and their fighting back. I could not help but feel my heart break a bit over their pain and torture. And it made me reflect on all the ways our present-day society marginalizes those it does not approve of - the effect I'm sure CM was going for.We also see the gender issues that up until now were not addressed much in Crobuzonian universe. I found it striking how women are degraded and marginalized, how a strong Remade woman is an abomination because of her 'unwomanly' strength, how even during the strikes and rebellion the women are treated as vastly inferior, nothing but instruments for men's sexual satisfaction which they 'owe' them - to the point of creating 'rape squads', and how a woman's revenge is even described as simply a 'grudge'. Yet again Miéville does not give us an ending we would love to have - you know, the one where conflicts get resolved, the bad guys get their comeuppance, and the good guys are vindicated. But life does not work like that, life tends to reset itself towards the status quo with maybe small new hope brewing under the surface - and CM reflects this in his writing. It is 'weird' and fantastical, with adventures and monsters (even though we can agree that the true monsters are always people) - but it is nevertheless very painfully real in its emotions and psychological effects of the outcomes. Everything comes at a cost and the costs are often very hard to bear. It's not a comfort read, not a book that will make you feel better - but that is not always the purpose of literature, is it now? Sometimes the purpose is to unsettle you and make you think.But the part I loved the most, the one that left perhaps the biggest impact on me, was the art about love and human longing. It underlies every action, every event of this story. The revolutionary fervor is fueled by longing for change and better life. The Iron Council is triggered by the longing for freedom and justice. And, of course, there was the love and longing of Cutter and Judah - albeit, sadly, not for the same thing. Cutter was heartbreaking in his love, devotion, and longing for Judah - the feelings that he knew too well weren't shared or reciprocated, but quite often seemed to be simply used. He was so touching, so pained in this that I felt a lump in my throat at times reading about him. No one, I repeat - no one should be doled out sorta-kinda-love simply as a gesture of kindness; that is just cruel."When Cutter understood that the sex would only ever be an act of patrician friendship, profane and saintly generosity would only ever be a gift from Judah, he tried to bring it to a close, but could not sustain the abstinence." Judah, with his "parasite innard goodness", with his never-ending devotion to and obsession with the Iron Council - to the point where we, along with Ann-Hari, question whether his love gives him the right to do what he ended up doing. Ann-Hari and Ori, with their longing to change history, to find something bigger than them, to help make something better. Toro, longing for revenge long-overdue. All of them are desperate, unhappy, driven by forces that they may not comprehend and yet cannot resist. So heartbreaking. "He feels pinioned by history. He can wriggle like a stuck butterfly but can go nowhere."And this leads me to another theme that I felt I was not even qualified to talk about as I think I may have missed the significance of it in quite a few parts of the book was the power of history, its relentless march, sweeping everything in its wake towards... something. The relentless pull of history that makes you feel small and insignificant. I may need a reread to fully grasp the implications.===========================================Overall, a rather challenging but ultimately rewarding and emotionally uneasy read that makes you ponder quite a few difficult questions. 4.5 stars. I recommend it highly, and advise sticking with it even if you do not fall in love with it right away. That love will come eventually, I promise.