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.

Disappointing and at times frustrating. . .

The final verdict: 6.75/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

10 commentaires:

Karina Fabian said...

Dear Patrick,

My apologies for reaching you through the comments section, but I could not find contact information for you on your sites or your other blogs listed on your profile.

I have a fantasy coming out from DragonMoon Aug 8: Mind Over Mind, and I was wondering if you accepted review books from smaller press authors and would be interested:

Mind Over Mind by Karina Fabian (Fantasy): Deryl Stephens' uncontrollable telepathic abilities have landed him in a mental health institution, where no one believe in his powers. Joshua Lawson, a summer intern at SK-Mental Institute, does something no one else has ever done: he accepts Deryl's reality and teaches him to work with it. As Deryl learns control, he finds his next challenge is to face the aliens who have been contacting him psychically for years--aliens who would use him to further their cause in an interplanetary war. The first in the Mind Over trilogy, from DragonMoon Press.

If interested, please e-mail me at karina(at)fabianspace.com, and I'd be glad to send you a copy.

Karina Fabian

Nick said...

Worst. (Half a -)Review. Ever.

Look, Pat, I don't care that you didn't like the book. What bothers me is that almost every paragraph of your review is repetitive. It's basically, "the beginning rocked. The rest sucked". Which is fine. But it's almost as though you sought to emulate what you think China achieved with your review. Did we really need eight paragraphs to tell us you found the middle portion dull and uninspiring? I think not. And by the end you fail to tell us if the ending was any good. You tell us the beginning rocked and the middle sucked, but then get so caught up on reminding us that the middle sucked that your "review" just kinda peters out.


Blake said...

@Nick: He does say that the ending was good. Twice actually. Maybe that wasn't repetitive enough for you.

Anonymous said...


I've been underwhelmed a lot by this author. My regret is that he seems to be the only person in the genre who gets reviewed in the MSM. He takes up all the air.

Andy L

Fence said...

I wasn't overly fond of this either. I really liked the idea, and found the Hosts a really interesting creating. But the first 2/3 of the story did very little for me. The last third I thought was great.

I totally agree with you about the main character though, she was without character.

Anonymous said...

Well, the review is really just a longer comment instead of a review...

"Avice as a first-person narrator could not convey the depth of the themes explored in this book."

Not enough worrying and lip-biting?

Russ said...

"I've been underwhelmed a lot by this author. My regret is that he seems to be the only person in the genre who gets reviewed in the MSM. He takes up all the air."


He was the hipster flavor of the month that never went away...

Anonymous said...

Strange that Miéville seems to lose it since he stopped writing his Bas-Lag-Stories. Those were great books with unique ideas and good characterizations, even his style was somehow fresh. After that? Hm, I forced myself to like "The City & the City" or "Kraken", but somehow Miéville was more confusing than ever and I missed the depth behind his protagonists and more of the mystery and atmosphere he is able to create. The basic ideas of those books, the framework of both, was highly interesting, but what he made of those was just 50% or less what he could have done with it. He should go back to Bas-Lag if he wants to deserve the hype around his works.

Anonymous said...

"We don't you like your kind with your fancy words around here..."

This review is far from a general statement on the writer. He'll just write more books and some will get less mixed reviews.

Anonymous said...

This book was quite painful for me to read. I felt like somebody was beating me with a ruler and forcing me to painfully read another page. It was really bad! I thought the mean nun from the Catholic school was punishing me for consorting with the boys on the other side of the fence. I threw the book in the donation pile and quite half way in. I felt that life is too short for half assed, pseudo-hispter books where too much effort was put into making sure it seemed intelligent versus building likable characters and world you could envision.

Mieville has ran out of steam and it's evident in Embassytown.