As a famous quote goes, "When you look long into...
an abyssa mirror, the abyssmirror also looks into you."
So while the conquerors preened and slept and ate and had sex in front of the mirrors, the conquered remembered and sharpened their hatred, all the way from their prison in the tain, a layer in the back of the mirror allowing it to reflect. And they finally fought back, and they were exquisitely brutal and merciless in doing so. "Mirrors became gates, and something came through."
"Do you see? Can you understand why we fought?
Every house became Versailles. Every house a hall of mirrors."
"For six thousand years, and for ever, you have held us down. Each of us alive and watching, and waiting, and waiting, undying all that time. You didn't know but not knowing is no excuse."China Miéville treats the reader to the image of London - deserted, abandoned, a ghost of its former self, almost a distorted mirror image of what it used to be. And it's swarming with the creatures that we once thought were nothing more than the reflections of our own vanity. The idea was borrowed from Borges, but the finishing touches are unmistakably Miéville - with the imagery of flying disembodied hands, or eyeballs, or other carelessly reflected and forgotten fleeting mirror images that are this new world's fauna. And how about humans? Well, they are not faring so well.
"The soldiers made themselves live in a future where they had won. They experienced each second as a memory, pre-emptively. The rat-people, in contrast, the Londoners become vermin, lived only in a present which terrified them."We see the story from the point of view of both opposing sides. We get the third-person narration following Sholl, a human survivor who has a mission to carry out. Sholl, who for some reason appears to be safe from the invaders - for the reasons never explicitly explained but sufficiently hinted at. The writing in his sections is quite toned-down as far as Miéville, he of the flourishing vocabulary, goes - and it works beautifully. The language is full of tension and suspense, and builds the growing feeling of unease and physically palpable fear quite masterfully.
"Sholl did not know where in history you lived, he and the few others like him. He felt uncoupled from time.We also get the first-person point of view of one of the 'imagos' - those coming from the other side of the mirror, in the narration so strikingly beautiful and poignant, and in its tone almost reminiscent of Yagharek's bits in Perdido Street Station, or so it seemed to me. And through his narration Miéville succeeds in making the reader feel the plight and the horror of the formerly conquered side, and at the same time have the nagging feeling about the easiness with which we can exploit others, even if we do it unknowingly. And even more - does such unwitting exploitation warrant such hatred? Given that the exploiters are completely unaware of what is happening? Whose feelings matter here? Or does it matter?
"What would you have me do?"