After a little bit of a break, it’s time to talk about Part Two of Embassytown, a section titled “Festivals”! Catch up on the previous posts in this series by visiting the intro & index page.
PROBABLE SPOILERS AHEAD
Here we have nine chapters, continuing the alternating Formerly/Latterday structure so that Miéville can intersperse the slow-but-steady acceleration of the plot with more worldbuilding-dense flashbacks. First I’ll talk about the Latterday plot events, before continuing to examine the background details of the novel’s universe.
“A slow catastrophe”
After the turning point at the end of Part One, when EzRa opened their mouths, there is a period of confusion as to what went wrong. Something is undoubtedly wrong but not everyone is privy to the “slow catastrophe” brewing. The Staff and Ambassadors are suddenly on edge, but are keeping tight-lipped, leaving Avice and the majority of Embassytown (not to mention the reader) in the dark with a faint feeling of dread and unease. This tantalising, but opaque, slide into apocalypse makes the eventual moments of clear terror all the more delicious for the reader — much like the slow, uneasy build up to the reveal of the Slake Moths in Perdido Street Station.
This week I’m bringing you my analysis and thoughts on Part One of Embassytown, “Income”.
This series of posts has an intro & index that you should start with. As I mentioned last week, I might get some of the details wrong because it’s been a few years since I first read this book. Bear with me, I’ll correct myself as I go.
PROBABLE SPOILERS AHEAD
As we enter the meat of the novel, China employs an interleaved flashback structure to the chapters, divided between “Formerly” and “Latterday”. The Formerly chapters detail Avice’s return to Embassytown and her relationship with her husband Scile (and later, with others). We learn a lot of the key exposition about Embassytown, the Hosts, and their Language, through their conversations. Meanwhile, the Latterday chapters return to the day of the Arrival Ball from the book’s very beginning, which is kilohours after Avice’s return — a period of time probably in the ballpark of Earth-months.
This entire part of the novel, about 50 pages long (in the UK hardcover), keeps the reader in kind of a holding pattern. We linger at the ball, where we know something momentous must soon occur; and in the meantime China takes advantage of this lull to impart some must-know worldbuilding, in order to get us up to speed on how human-Host relations work on this world, so we understand how everything goes wrong. It’s not until the conclusion of Part One that the main conflict of the book swings into motion.
Welcome to the first part of my Embassytown re-read, covering the section “Proem: The Immerser”.
Start with the intro & index if you are new to my series of re-read posts. And a note: I can’t remember a lot of the details of the book (which is one of the pleasures of re-reading) so I might be mistaken about some of the things I talk about early on. I’ll correct myself as I go!
PROBABLE SPOILERS AHEAD
Embassytown has a strange structure, even for a China Miéville book. It begins with a vignette from a crucial point from later in the story, then there is a 39-page (in the UK hardcover) prologue section, titled “Proem: The Immerser”. The “proem” (just a fancy word for prologue) is divided into three chapters, headed “0.1”, “0.2” and “0.3”. Oh, China Miéville.
Personally I love this introduction to the book. It keeps a lot of the main concepts a mystery (e.g.: the nature of the Hosts, the nature of the Ambassadors, the key points of the Language, the planet Arieka outside of Embassytown itself, and so on); instead focusing on Avice, her youth, and her adventures in the out.
The prologue functions as a broader stage-setting, saving the meaty plot-related concepts for later introductions. Miéville knows the books he writes can be mindbogglers (see The City and the City), so he draws you in gradually, gently. Nonetheless, there is still a lot about the universe of the book that we get introduced to, and I’ll go through what we know so far.
I was one of the lucky ones to get an ARC (advance reader’s copy) of Embassytown back in 2011, and to read and review it before it was officially released. Out of pure excitement, eagerness to review, and the desire to brag, I raced through the book. Now, three years on, I am finally getting around to a more leisurely re-read: that pleasurable second time through a book where you discover ten times the detail you did the first time around, and can appreciate the gorgeous writing and the turns of the plot much more thoroughly.
I’ll be writing up my thoughts and observations about the book and its universe as I go, but in a much less rigid way than I did for my chapter-by-chapter analysis of The Scar (which I may one day finish). Fair warning: I have no idea how many posts this re-read series will comprise, how long it’ll take, and so on. I’ll work my way through the book as I read my other 4 or 5 concurrent books, and hopefully I’ll be done before long.
I simply can’t wait for the discoveries I’ll make as I enter the Immerverse once more.