China Miéville’s The Scar Chapter-By-Chapter: Ch. 29, Ch. 30

The Scar - French cover

The Scar - French cover

Bellis is a popular gal in these two chapters, what with Silas sneaking into her apartment late at night, and Uther wanting to read her some poetry. How lucky to be pursued by two such fine suitors! Okay, not really… They each want something else out of her, I’m sure. But to say what before the spoiler warning wouldn’t be nice. So if you read on, BEWARE OF SPOILERS FOR THE WHOLE BOOK! [Intro and index]

Chapter 29

First, let’s talk about Bellis. Bellis’s entire life is one filled with loneliness, and it’s one of the few minor failures of this book that we never really find out why she’s like she is. Of her New Crobuzon life, we hear about former lovers (or at least, Isaac) but not much about her other relationships — friends, family, and so on. I have the feeling though that she’s pretty cold and distant to everyone, and doesn’t form many long-lasting bonds. I think the reason Miéville wrote her like this was to make her lack something in her life, that would then make her so easily manipulated by Silas and Uther Doul. It’s a shame, because despite her coldness I like her as a character, and she does seem to have some depth, but in the end her only real purposes in this entire book are as a) a viewpoint to watch the actions of others through, and b) a pawn to be used by multiple sides to serve the plot.

People often criticize Miéville’s protagonists for passiveness, but I think in most of the other books he’s written, the main characters do a lot more in service of the conflict’s resolution. Still, The Scar remains a brilliant book regardless of any small characterization flaws.

So, Bellis takes a walk through the city, and I find it interesting that Miéville includes “night-walkers” (which I assume are prostitutes) in among a list of Armada’s feral wildlife.

Silas is waiting for her at her home (having probably snuck in using the weird Grindylow magic). He’s enraged at first when he finds out Bellis enlisted Tanner to help deliver the message. It’s pretty clear that he’s suddenly terrified of Armada’s wrath once the true purpose of that message is revealed. He only calms down again when Bellis assures him that Tanner didn’t know Silas was Bellis’s partner. All this makes me wonder: In Silas’s secret plan, only Bellis would know that he had anything to do with bringing New Crobuzon’s navy down on Armada. So did he plan on killing Bellis at some point so she couldn’t incriminate him? He may still be planning this. I can’t remember from the last time I read the book, what he does when Bellis confronts him about it.

Silas also expects the ring back, and now I’m wracking my brain trying to remember the significance of it. Maybe he needs it to prove who he is when New Crobuzon’s boats arrive. Right now it’s lost in the waters around the anophelii island, but I think it may pop up again when we next peek in on the Grindylow.

The final passage of the chapter is in the perspective of the nameless man and his disgusting magical statue, and if you pay attention it becomes obvious at this point that it is Silas, especially as it explicitly describes him leaving the smokestack apartments and going to look for the ring. I feel dumb for not realising, even at this point, that it was Silas on my first time through. Maybe I had skimmed over this bit, anxious to get to the raising of the avanc.

Chapter 30

Armada is thinning out its battle fleet to harvest material for the avanc’s harness and chains. That’s going to come back and bite them in the ass! The construction is witnessed by Shekel, as we check in on him for the first time in ages. For some reason this passage describes him being on the way to Bellis’s house, but there’s no ensuing scene between the two of them. Not in the next chapter either. I guess it’s just implied that the reading lessons (and the sort-of friendship between the two) are continuing on as they were before. That’s kind of sweet.

Uther continues his weird courting of Bellis, giving her a poetry recital in Quiesy (his native language, that of High Cromlech) and showing her his organ… er, I mean his musical instrument.

The description of the Ghosthead Empire is amongst the strangest details in the Bas-Lag novels. Bas-Lag is a fantasy world but at this point the narrative steps into unabashed science fiction. The metal fish that bore the Ghosthead to Bas-Lag was obviously a spaceship. Their home world must have had some strange orbit around its star, bringing it daily close enough to scorch the face of the planet, then each night far enough away for even gases to freeze solid. Uther’s description of their journey here puzzles me though:

“The Ghosthead came here from the universe’s eastern rim. They passed the rock globes that circulate in the sky — another, more evanescent kind of world than ours on the infinite plateau…”

Does this imply that Bas-Lag is not a “rock globe”? Does this mean Bas-Lag isn’t spherical? What is it about the rock globes that makes them more evanscent than Bas-Lag? I can’t begin to fathom the meaning of this passage. I feel like it’s giving some hint about the nature of Bas-Lag but I can’t work it out. Also, as an aside, it would be brilliant if Bas-Lag turned out to be just another world in the Immerverse introduced in Embassytown.

The Contumancy, mentioned a few chapters ago, is revealed to be the rebellion that overthrew the Ghosthead Empire. It was followed by the Sloughing Off, presumably when the remnant Ghosthead were destroyed. Goddamn, that period of history would make a brilliant Bas-Lag novel. Why does Miéville keep saying he’ll only write a new one when he thinks of a good idea? There’s tons of good ideas scattered throughout the existing books.

The chapter ends with Uther taking Bellis to a place in the Grand Easterly that will become important later — a secret listening spot — and Bellis hears the Lovers being icky. There’s a lot of musing about passion and perversion. I don’t have much to add other than it’s weird that Bellis, who doesn’t seem to love anyone, would be so affronted by the lovelessness she notices in their relationship. I thought I had more to say about this scene but maybe I’ll think of something the next time the Lovers’ relationship is central to the narrative.


Tolpandy (Shaddler riding?) – On the border of Shaddler and Garwater.


  1. I just finished all three novels and I love your words on The Scar. They are a pleasure to read after the brilliance of China.

  2. Going through this book for the 3rd time. I do think that China is telling us that Bas-Lag is not a globe world. But I cannot quite figure out its shape. Is it a flat world? A Culture-style orbital?

  3. I have been reading The Scar for the 4th or 5th time and I really enjoy reading your notes! It is heart-warming that there is as a great Scar-lover as me!

  4. Rereading The Scar, I’m pretty sure SIlas’ didn’t actively plan to murder Bellis had Tanner not been involved. If it’s only Bellis then there’s almost certainly no risk to him, she doesn’t question the reason the message is sent until New Crobuzon attacks, and when that happens he fully expects to leave. Possibly with Bellis if it’s no effort to bring her along, but definitely be gone. After which point Bellis figuring out it’s her fault is pretty irrelevant to him.

    I don’t really think it’s Silas’ MO to kill people he’s manipulating just to tie up loose ends and make sure he’s safe. Especially if they can provide some kind of ongoing value to him like Bellis can now that she’s also spending time with Uther Doul.

  5. Also, the Dragon magazine article on Bas Lag only makes the Ghosthead Empire’s fall more interesting. Because apparently key to the Contumancy were devices which are called “demonstration machines” which through unexplained means could undermine the Possibility science the Ghosthead used.

    My personal theory is that this is some kind of Crisis device. Because even if Bellis thinks this invalidates Crisis theory, we know Crisis works because Isaac actually makes use of it. So the simple contradiction of coexisting contradictory realities probably does in fact still produce a crisis (and thus crisis energy). Possibility just prolongs that crisis and temporarally makes the fact and resolution coexist with it’s opposite.

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