Two long chapters tonight, with a LOT to talk about! These chapters are chock full of more descriptions of Armada, mostly just detailing the lives of our characters after their capture, but with a few little slivers of hints at deeper, mysterious events. If you want, check out the introduction & index to this post series, or continue reading. Warning, WHOLE BOOK SPOILERS may be present.
(Artwork on left by Joe D)
The chapter opens with a different perspective, not that of Bellis, Tanner or Shekel. First, we find out Armada has a population of feral monkeys. Miéville really knows his cities. He even has details like the urban wildlife covered. I definitely would like to know how they got there, though. The rain lashing the city at the moment makes me keenly look forward to the stormy chapters yet to come. A meeting is ending, and we meet the Brucolac at this moment. Definitely one of my favourite characters. I seem to remember something significant about his name, maybe it’s explained later.
In this and the next chapter we learn much about the structure and politics of Armada, mostly through Bellis, who has it taught to her by others. It’s divided into “ridings”, each with its own governance, although the leaders all have meetings to decide on courses of action. I get the impression that, other than the united goals of Armada’s general course and its defence when under attack, all the ridings have their own agendas that they can fulfil with their own fleets of free vessels. Anyway, it seems not all of Armada’s leaders are happy with recent events. The reader is left in the dark about just what is going on for quite a while yet.
Tanner finds his Remade tentacles are healing. What exactly was his crime? I hope we find out at some point. I know it’s not as huge a reveal as Yagharek’s was in Perdido Street Station. Maybe it’s never revealed at all. Tanner is finding himself with work and friends and is generally acclimatising well to Armada, unlike Bellis, who keeps herself isolated. I like how we examine both of these characters’ reactions to life in Armada in the conversations that occur this chapter. Tanner is happier than ever and never wants to go back, and Bellis is the exact opposite. Shekel seems like he would be fine no matter where he ended up.
It’s brilliant that Tanner’s off-the-cuff suggestion that Shekel should spend more time at the library is basically what kicks off the entire main plot of the book.
We meet more of Armada’s citizens. Bastard John is mentioned for the first time, and we’ll see more of him later. Only China Miéville would include a dolphin character who’s a total asshole. Hedrigall also shows up for the first time, and one of the very first things we learn is that he’s great at spinning stories. A definite clue about the ending’s mystery, there. Hedrigall has apparently seen “keragorae, mosquito-men and unplaced”. Keragorae could be any fantasy monster, mosquito-men will show up in a large capacity later, but what could the third one be? A curious name for a creature.
The conversation Bellis has with Tearfly is absolutely dripping with hints, but it’s all very opaque to the first-time reader. We find out about much of Armada’s day-to-day business, with the general piratey stuff like looting and pillaging. But he’s tightlipped on his personal business on Armada. We also find out that it’s basically due to him that the Terpsichoria was captured, and that tells us a lot about the existence of Armada’s agents throughout the ports of Bas-Lag.
Bellis and Tearfly argue about Armada, and Tearfly defends the rich culture and history Armada has accumulated. More potential Bas-Lag: A History chapter titles are dropped, like “the Flesh-Eater Wars” and “the Ghosthead Empire” and, well at least the latter is explained a little later. But goddammit. Where is the next Bas-Lag story, China?? Tearfly is right about a lot of what he says, especially when he compares Bellis’s desire to go home to the desires of the once-enslaved Remade from the Terpsichoria‘s hold. I don’t exactly remember Bellis going through much of a character arc in this book, but exposing her selfishness in this instance might be the start of one, if it exists.
Armada is on the move, and the plot wheels are turning, but apart from Tearfly’s hints in the previous chapter, none of that is apparent to the reader. Still, Bellis’s wondering what Armada’s ulterior motives are keeps the same question fresh in the reader’s mind.
A recurring theme this chapter is of resources. We find out in bits and pieces where Armada’s food and other supplies come from. A lot is pillaged of course, but much is grown or harvested at sea. The Armada diet is varied, although not exactly appetising or rich in nutrition, by the sound of it, what with the sickly inbred animals, and whatever “bladderwracks” are. Ink is stolen, or made with the excretions of various sea creatures. Books, interestingly, are another prized resource. It’s interesting that such a ruthless pirate culture would still value and share knowledge. Armada, for all its hardships, is sort of the closest thing to a utopia in the dystopian world that is Bas-Lag. Everyone is free and equal and provided for, and knowledge is placed above most other resources.
Incidentally, I really love the idea of the former owners of Armada’s stolen book collection being like ghosts, haunting shelves and corridors. Really wonderful metaphor.
Carrianne is one of Bellis’s colleagues, and through her we learn more about life in Armada. At their lunch in another of Armada’s food establishments (which also has Llorgis clientele, and my god they are weird!), first we find out about Carrianne herself. She is from a colony island of the Witchocracy called Geshen. The Witchocracy has many other names, and Carrianne gives a few, including “Hive of the Jet Sorrow” which is another name I want to know the meaning of. (An aside: I still really am not sure if the Witchocracy is the same place as Tesh, which is important in Iron Council. Some passages in the Bas-Lag books make them sound as if they are the same place, while other passages indicate they are neighbours. It’s something that would certainly be clarified by an almanac or encyclopedia of this world.)
We get a full list of the ridings of Armada, which I’ll list for no sake other than prosperity’s:
- Clockhouse Spur AKA Booktown
When the book is done I may make a post listing each riding, the ships and locations therein, and the leaders of each.
My god, this chapter is full of nouns. The next clump of them is one of synonyms for vampire, which apparently according to that awesome glossary of The Scar, are mostly terms taken from our world’s culture. Except possibly “ab-dead”, which may be a Miéville-ism, knowing his love for the prefix “ab-“.
Bellis decides to be a total nerd and sit at home until the early hours of the morning with library books. Oh, who could blame her? I’d love to flip through a copy of Tearfly’s Theories of Megafauna, personally. Another mystery is brought up as she peers out at the sea: how do Armada’s fleet find it again, if it’s constantly moving? This question is yet another sly hint at a later plot point. More questions are raised in the reader’s mind, about the hidden and well-guarded things attached to the underside of Armada, or the purpose of the Sorghum, for instance.
Through Tanner we meet Angevine, another Remade, and the love interest of Shekel. I like seeing the changes in Shekel that Tanner is now noticing. I also like seeing a more social side of Armada life through these two, in contrast to Bellis’s very sheltered habits. Tanner hears all sorts of seafaring-stories from his new friends, including such horrors as “boiltides” (sounds terrifying) and “dead seas”.
While Tanner wanders through Armada and puzzles over the plans of the city’s leaders, Shekel has some intimate moments with Angevine. This little passage is quite explicit but also tender and touching. It lets us into Shekel’s character a little bit, and he, through Angevine, gets a bit of redemption from his younger, unrulier life. It’s very interesting that this is described in terms of wounds and healing, and the word “scar” is used in a positive way, to represent an after-product, a reminder, a proof of healing. Yet another way that each of the characters’ stories ties back into the novel’s title. This will pop up again later with Tanner’s surgical transformation, and Bellis’s lash wounds. Everyone in this novel is hurt in some way, and healed in some way, and is left with scars. It’s just fucking brilliant.
- Uroc (Dry Fall riding) – The flagship of Dry Fall.
- Therianthropus (Shaddler riding) – The flagship of Shaddler. Features Barrow Hall, where meetings of Armada’s leaders occur.
- Arrogance (Garwater riding) – Hedrigall’s airship, unmoving but still buoyant. Tethered to the Grand Easterly.
- Castor (Garwater riding) – Where Tintinnabulum lives, with other hunters who are involved in the Lovers’ plan. Full of hunting trophies. At the junction of Garwater, Shaddler and Booktown.
- Urchinspine docks – The secondary docks of Armada.
- Dancing Wight (Booktown riding) – A ship of the Grand Gears Library.
- Psire (Booktown riding) – Booktown/Clockhouse Spur’s largest ship. A steamer, now housing both industry and residences.
- Magda’s Threat (Garwater riding) – One of Garwater’s mobile fleet. Sunken in the Firewater Straits.