China Mieville’s work often suffers from a jarring mash-up of highbrow worldbuilding and literary stylistics with unashamedly pulp-influenced plotting. To that end, New Paris is no different.
The novella has a strong start, and the dual narrative adds welcome depth to the story whilst keeping a lively pace. The worldbuilding – always Mieville’s forte – is on top form. A lot of research clearly went into the writing, and the ‘making of’ glossary at the end of the book underlines this – illuminating which Surrealist artworks the various supernatural manifs are based on.
I didn’t think the fictional-but-trying-not-to-be afterword really succeeded. If it was attempting to add immersion it should have been a foreword, and its placement at the end makes it feel like more of a tacked-on afterthought. The ending wasn’t especially satisfying, and for some reason a Nazi version of the Khorne Lord of Skulls turns up from the Warhammer 40,000 universe. And while the majority of the living artworks are brilliant and bizarre, there is the occasional mis-step: I’m sorry, but ‘wolf-tables’? Nah.
So why the 4 stars? Because that’s how China Mieville books work: you get absolutely top-tier, 5-star worldbuilding from a guy who – I make no hyperbole – is the foremost master-manipulator of language in fantasy since Tolkien. This, nestled up to flat characterisation, dull dialogue, and occasionally dodgy pacing.
But I’m used to that now, and New Paris has come a long way in resolving these flaws since the days of New Crobuzon. There may come a time when I’ve had enough, but… come on, it’s China Mieville. Don’t be daft. More.