The best steampunk book ever written China Miéville’s The Scar pits the wits of a spy scoundrel Silas Fennec, a.k.a. Simon Fench, against the strategic warrior Uther Doul.
While the protagonist of The Scar is Bellis Coldwin, the best conflict of the story is between Doul and Fennec. This even though they don’t meet face to face until the end of the story. Coldwin is used at times as an agent on behalf of these two characters’ wills.
Doul is a warrior driven by his need to serve the leaders of the Garwater riding of Armada, The Lovers, for better or worse. Though as the story progresses, we are less and less sure if it is The Lovers or Uther Doul himself who is pulling the strings in Armada.
Fennec’s motivations are mysterious and hidden while on the surface he is just a prisoner who wants to escape to save his homeland.
Coldwin is manipulated by both in an indirect war between the two.
The Scar, as often stated on the website, is the best work of steampunk fiction. It is a story set in a fantasy world called Bas-Lag. The main character, Bellis Coldwin, finds herself the prisoner and citizen of a floating city called Armada. Bellis Coldwin first finds an ally in Fennec, a fellow citizen of New Crobuzon who would like to escape from this pirate city built on the hulls of hundreds of derelict ships.
What makes the battle between Fennec and Doul interesting is that as the story progresses it seems their goals are more closely aligned. Perhaps both characters want to stop The Lovers’ plan to lead the floating city of Armada to the fabled Scar. The Scar is the place where The Lovers plan on tapping the mysterious power of the tear in the world.
Both Fennec and Doul seem opposed to this goal, if for different reasons. Fennec, who is being stalked across the seas of Bas-Lag by an unknown enemy, needs to return to New Crobuzon with the information contained in his notebook. He can’t afford to be hijacked by these seeming psychopaths. Doul is a natural leader who prefers his role as loyal soldier and servant of The Lovers. He is willing to destroy anyone who attempts to stop The Lovers directly, whether right or wrong. However, as the story plays out it becomes apparent that Doul might be working indirectly against The Lovers himself.
The Scar is a bizarre and highly imaginative tale made all the more compelling by the conflict between Uther Doul and Silas Fennec. Miéville is the best and these are two of the finest characters in any steampunk novel.
This story is part of the archive of Steampunk Books, Kevin Steele’s website of hackneyed steampunk book reviews and lists (2016-20). Click here for the full archive.