China Mieville, author of The City & The City (winner of the 2010 Hugo Award), returns with Embassytown, a novel of a staggering culture who’s incapable of speaking lies. Mieville continues his unique story-telling in a way that only he can with this latest novel.

Synopsis for Embassytown:

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.

Cover-embassytownMieville writes like no other current author, weaving a marvelously complicated story, with an intriguing protagonist, and a fully-realized world; so fully-realized, in fact, it would be a shame for him not to return to it at some point. There seems to never be a word out of place in his prose, or errors of any type that can be recognized. Embassytown, in particular, shows off the incredible prose and grammar that the author brings to his works. When describing the Ambassadors and mixing the single-person with multiple person tense, it’s strange at first, but very quickly feels like second-nature. It’s a testament to the incredibly complex world he’s created for the novel.

Avice Benner Cho, the primary–and viewpoint–character of the novel, grows more than most characters do in an entire series throughout the novel. The story begins with her being a child, then quickly expands to reveal some of her later escapades as she’s older, then she truly takes on a life of her own when she returns to Embassytown. By the end, she becomes one of the most memorable characters–of any book–in recent years. Avice struggles through disinterest, love, pain, loss, intense suffering, and so many more emotions, it’s impossible to keep track. Most of all, she reacts realistically. It’s difficult to believe that this is a character, and not an actual person–the most successful portrayal an author can strive for.

The dialogue of the novel is mostly excellent, though sometimes rather difficult to follow. Particularly in the beginning sections, readers must learn the new terminology that Mieville introduces without much explanation (or apology). It’s somewhat reminiscent of The City & The City, and yet contains a completely different emotional feel. Especially in latter portions of the novel, the dialogue between Avice and the native culture becomes doubly-intriguing. It’s an incredibly interesting series of conversations that occur.

The plot of Embassytown is sprawling, yet epic, and has several distinct feels throughout. Much of the beginning provides the awe of the Ariekene culture, then slowly expands and fills in all the details necessary to set events in motion later in the novel. When the big turn of events takes place, the reader is just as confused as the characters in the novel, and struggle right along with them to figure out what all the fuss is about. Mieville makes it very clear, however, than something big has just happened, and the unfolding of the tragedy that provides the impetus for events that follow is handled masterfully. A truly unique story unfolds, and is told in a way that only China Mieville seems capable of.

Embassytown is one of those novels that comes along only so often. Brilliantly written, infinitely complex, yet approachable my nearly any reader. Its only weakness is the strangeness of the first few chapters, which mostly disappear by the end of the book. It may lose some readers at the beginning, but if one can get past the oddities presented by Mieville’s writing, they are in for a very good read.

– Reviewed by Bradley K. Brown

Book Review: Embassytown

time to read (approx.): 3 min