The Review That Wasn’t: Perdido Street Station

Last week I finally, finally finished reading Perdido Street Station. It took me a full six months to get through that book, and I wanted the world to know what I thought about it. I rolled up my sleeves put my fingers to the keys and began typing. At about 1,500 words I noticed a speck of dust on my brand new laptop. As I was innocently brushing it off, I must have hit some key combination, or clicked a button that then caused the WordPress editor to refresh. I lost the whole review. Every word. No auto-saves. (All the writers reading this are cringing and hearing phantom screams of “NOOOOOOO!” echoing through their heads right now.) In any case, I decided that for a book that I really didn’t enjoy that much, it wasn’t worth my time to spend another two hours recalling what I had written to recreate the post that I’d lost, so here’s the tl;dr version of the review of a book that, in hindsight, I really wish I’d marked as tl;dr at the 300 page point:

perdido-street-stationone and a half stars

The Good:

– Very imaginative, rich world to explore. Everything feels very tangible.
– Many interesting concepts and world building details.
– The Weaver.
– Lemuel Pigeon.

The Bad:

– 600 pages and only half felt like actual story.
– 250 pages in and the plot finally starts.
– The majority of the characters are bland and uninteresting.
– Two of the three main antagonists are completely unnecessary.
– Tangents, tangents, tangents.
– Emotion bled out of scenes that are reported retroactively.
– Fleetingly interesting characters are never heard from again.
– Several pages of lengthy description that could be (and eventually were) skipped with no detriment to story comprehension.
– The death of Lemuel Pigeon.
– 25 pages of describing laying cables.
– Deus ex Remade.
– Lin and her entire story arc.
– The terribly anticlimactic monster reveal.
– The terribly anticlimactic ending.
– The unresolved Construct Council conflict.
– The unresolved Motley conflict.
– The unresolved Militia conflict.
– The unresolved Yagharek conflict.
– The clumsy inclusion of the dock workers conflict.

In the end, the whole reason why I didn’t just give up on this book was that the writing is pretty good. Is it worth the slog? I don’t know. It depends on what you look for in a book. If deep, rich worlds full of creativity and diversity are your thing, then yeah, this book will probably do it for you. If you prefer characters and tidy plots, then this book is almost guaranteed to frustrate you.

The next book on my reading list is Thomas the Rhymer by Ellen Kushner.


18 thoughts on “The Review That Wasn’t: Perdido Street Station

      • Well, if you think you might, you don’t want to read my review, because it has spoilers.
        I’ll say two things though:
        1. It’s a trick and shifts into first person almost immediately. I think there’s a reason epic fantasy isn’t done in 1st, and this book is a good example of why you shouldn’t do it.
        2. The third book still isn’t out.
        — My oldest son read it and the 2nd book and really enjoyed them while he was reading them (when he was 16), but he doesn’t think, now, he has any interest left for book three when/if it ever comes out. That probably doesn’t speak well for the books overall.

    • Well, again, it depends on what you like in a book. Perdido has lots of fans. It has way more five star reviews than one or two stars, but for me, it just didn’t satisfy what I need in fiction.

  1. I feel your pain. Thanks for the reminder to be more careful of WordPress – and for warning of a book which doesn’t sound a must-read. Two public service announcements in one!

  2. Nope. Based on the short review, the negatives were so overwhelmingly tipped to that side of the scale I couldn’t bring myself to read it. I am, however, sighing with great sadness over the loss of all that “damn good snark.” It’s one of the things I like most about your writing, NJ. I shall play a line of taps for the missed opportunity.

    • I’m at least pleased to say that I got through the entire thing. I’ve been told that it is part of a trilogy, but I have a policy that if a writer can’t impress me with his or her first book, I don’t punish myself further with the second and third and so on.

      And yes, it was a big blow to see that post disappear. I really don’t like the new editor. The old editor used to periodically save, but this one only saves if you hit ‘preview’ so the only thing that survived the death click was my attempt at formatting the images. 😦

  3. I read it years ago (Perdido Street Station, not your original review :-)) and I remember loving it to pieces. I can’t for the life of me remember ANYTHING about it now except wings. Would I still like it now? Maybe not; but as you so fairly put it, for a unique vision of a dark future (maybe steampunk is the word I want here?) – it’s at least worth a look. You don’t have to spend money on it though. Remember, libraries do NOT care whether you finish the book or not, and they are free!

    • I try not to say that a book is objectively bad in my reviews. Usually if I read a book (or abandon a book) which I feel is objectively terrible, I don’t say anything about it at all. I can see why Perdido would appeal to some people. It just really didn’t sit well with me personally. I was bored through most of the story, and the parts that I did find interesting didn’t go anywhere. I was terribly disappointed by Lin being refrigerated twice and having practically zero effect on the story, despite having a detailed arc in the beginning. I was disappointed likewise by Motley and Ruttinger who, despite having plenty of lead up as antagonists, actually don’t play that big of a role in the story. I was bored by the excess of description and the slow pace of the story, and after 600+ pages, the ending was about as satisfying as a flat diet Coke.

  4. Oh, I can’t stand it when things get erased like that! I kept hearing about Mieville, and read Embassytown. It look me a bit to get through that one. The concept was fascinating, but the characters were not as well drawn as I typically like and I felt there were several unexplored paths. One of those books where the concept is the feature rather than the story. So an intriguing read, but not necessarily one I would recommend to others. Sounds like yours was in a similar vein!

    • That’s pretty much exactly how I felt about Perdido Street Station. Cool concept, but nothing around it felt very well anchored. Plots appeared and didn’t go anywhere, characters didn’t have much impact on the story. Stuff just sort of happened. Interesting stuff, sometimes, but it didn’t go anywhere. I find that to be the case in a lot of steampunk, though. The narrative is just a display case for the cool things the authors have dreamed up.

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