Today I dive into Part Two of The Scar, “Salt”. We get our first tour of Armada, and there’s a lot of ships to catalogue. From now on I’ll start noting the riding each ship is located in as well. Just one chapter tonight again. Tomorrow I will try to get back on track with two chapters per post. For the introduction and index of this post series, click the link below. And beware of SPOILERS FOR THE WHOLE BOOK in these posts.
“Salt” is a good section title. It represents the culture of Armada (specifically the shared language they all speak, but the language Salt itself is symbolic of Armada, being patched together from different cultures, with ships and books and peoples from all over Bas-Lag). It also could refer to the fact that we’re now in the Swollen Ocean proper. Miéville uses multilayered titles like this for most of the book’s sections, and the book itself. The title The Scar has so many different meanings in context of the book, not just the obvious one. Scars of different kinds will pop up constantly throughout the story. (Left: artwork by Franco Brambilla)
Not counting Bellis’s impressions of Armada as a “forest of masts” in the previous interlude, our first view of the city is from below. And again we start by focusing on the life. I like this. It highlights the overall biological theme to this book, and this world.
I had completely forgotten that the Lovers are so different from one another. I remembered them looking alike, dressing alike, and obviously with the mirrored scars. But it turns out the only feature they share is their scars. Bellis’s reaction is brilliant: “What fucking unhealthiness is this?”
So, ships. There are thousands of them. Love them. I particularly love the weirder ones, like the one carved from an ossified whale corpse, or the Llorgis sea-pillar. Creepy. I’m not going to bother listing any unnamed vessels in my catalogue, there are just too many mentioned in passing. We also hear of some rarely-mentioned Bas-Lag species, like Gessin and Vu-murt. I’d kill for a bestiary of this world.
We also hear about Khepri history. Refugees from Bered Kai Nev (the big Eastern continent, presumably where Nova Esperium is) fled across the ocean to Rohagi/New Crobuzon, onboard “Mercy Ships”, to escape “the Ravening”. Okay, what the fuck? That sounds terrifying and amazing. But it’s never explained. I want to know about this so badly. The next Bas-Lag book should be a historical novel. There is so much untold history to this amazing world.
I like that Bellis has found a sort-of friend in Shekel too. And now the three main characters are all connected (apart from the fact that they were all on the Terpsichoria, that is).
Bellis’s sky-cab trip lets us see some of the rest of Armada outside of Garwater, including the Haunted Quarter. I remember being a bit disappointed the first time I read the book that this place was eventually explained. I thought it was just going to be one of those once-mentioned things that leaves you wondering. And yes, I just realised the irony in that I was complaining only two paragraphs ago that Miéville doesn’t explain enough of his world. Shut up.
The directions in the city are based on the Grand Easterly. Bellis’s cab goes “aft-aft-star’d”, which would be SSE if the ship was pointing north, right? I need to brush up on my nautical terms. We get our first glimpse of Hedrigall’s airship. I can’t remember its name right now. An aside: I based my online screen name off that character. No reason, I just liked it. And then we find out what happened to the Sorghum—it belongs to Armada now. That little mystery got tied up very fast, but there will soon be many others to intrigue us.
- Winterstraw Market – Actually made up of hundreds of small boats tied together, each containing a stall. Shoppers hop from one to another.
- Basilio Docks – Made up of sea-walls of stationary ships, which enclose and protect free-floating ones.
- Chromolith (Garwater riding) – Bellis’s home. A paddleship with apartments built into its funnels, known as Chromolith Towers.
- Jarvee (Garwater riding) – A schooner which has tobacco and sweet stores.
- Lynx Sejant (Garwater riding) – A barquentine, occupied by silk merchants.
- Severe (Booktown riding*) – A massive clipper. Part of the Khepri ghetto that is Booktown.
- Compound Dust (Booktown riding*) – A Khepri clockwork ship.
- Aronnax Lab (Booktown riding*) – A factory ship with workships and refineries. Also houses Krome Plaza.
- Pincherman (Booktown riding*) – Part of the Grand Gears Library.
- Raddletongue (Garwater riding) – Has a restaurant called the Unrealized Time.
- Grand Easterly (Garwater riding) – Biggest ship in Armada, the Lovers’ stronghold. Nine hundred feet long, black iron, with funnels and sails. Hedrigall’s airship is tethered to it. All directions in the city are based on its orientation.
- Glomar’s Heart (Garwater riding?) – A steamer which houses the Boulevard St Carcheri, a recreational promenade.
*NB: Booktown’s actual name is Clockhouse Spur.