Well, this one was a chore, no question about it. Had I not been reading this during my trip through the Southern Balkans and had access to my collection, I would never have finished reading this novel. It's been a while since I've been this underwhelmed by the work of a quality author.
Oddly enough, at first I was thoroughly captivated by the premise of the book. The first portion of Embassytown had me enthralled and I felt that this one could potentially make me miss out a couple of nights of drinking and mingling with fellow travelers. But the middle part slowed down to an atrocious crawl, boring me out of my mind. It got to be so bad at one point that I considered quitting. Only the fact that this was written by China Miéville kept me plodding on.
Here's the blurb:
Embassytown: a city of contradictions on the outskirts of the universe.
Avice is an immerser, a traveller on the immer, the sea of space and time below the everyday, now returned to her birth planet. Here on Arieka, humans are not the only intelligent life, and Avice has a rare bond with the natives, the enigmatic Hosts - who cannot lie.
Only a tiny cadre of unique human Ambassadors can speak Language, and connect the two communities. But an unimaginable new arrival has come to Embassytown. And when this Ambassador speaks, everything changes.
Catastrophe looms. Avice knows the only hope is for her to speak directly to the alien Hosts.
And that is impossible.
As I mentioned, I found the whole premise based on language to be fascinating at first. Miéville does an awesome job when it comes to setting the mood. As is usually his wont, Embassytown and its environs take on a life of their own, almost becoming characters in their own right.
The two main themes appear to be language and colonization. I feel that Miéville did a good job with the introduction of those concepts within the narrative and how closely the themes are linked in the overall plot. Trouble is, the execution throughout as the tale progresses was clumsy and uneven, killing what seemed to be a number of engrossing storylines as the plot goes nowhere for about 150 pages.
I don't believe that it was due to the fact that the project was too ambitious. Miéville starts the novel with panache and the story immediately captures your imagination. The author also brings this book to a satisfying end, so the novel is not all bad. But for some unfathomable reason, Miéville sort of gets lost in the middle portion of Embassytown and it takes forever for him to take control once more. I have a feeling that the entire premise would have worked better as a conceptual exploration of themes. The novelization of said themes, at least within the pages of Embassytown, didn't quite work the way Miéville probably envisioned them to. God knows it left this reader totally underwhelmed. . .
The characterization was also an issue. Avice as a first-person narrator could not convey the depth of the themes explored in this book. Surprisingly, though this is a first-person narrative, we learned very little about the main protagonist. I for one could not care less about her. Hence, witnessing events unfolding through her eyes likely didn't help at all. Still, it's weird how captivating her narrative could be at the beginning, as Miéville paved the way for what was to come, and then become so uninteresting as we reach the middle part of the novel.
The pace left a lot to be desired. As mentioned, everything flows well in the first hundred pages or so. But then for some unknown reason, the middle portion of Embassytown kills the momentum of the book. And the novel never gets its rhythm back. Miéville closes the show with style, but the damage was done.
In the end, it's not just a pacing issue. As a whole, I felt that the characters, the various plotlines, and the oh-so-important language aspects were decidedly underdeveloped. The premise and the early parts of Embassytown made it look like a brilliant work. Sadly, the lack of execution and the underdeveloped facets of this novel prevented Embassytown from being as good as it was meant to be.