This was one of my June buddy reads with the Sci-fi Fantasy Book Club on GoodReads. (If you enjoy buddy reads, it’s a great community, and there’s almost always someone that is happy to join in with you!) Instead of including quotes with this review I’ve included some images of surrealist art featured in the book (and I’m giving credit to Nicky Martin’s Graphic Annotations from which I found them).
I think China Mieville is an author whose ideas I’m in love with, and then struggle to connect with. I also think I’ve picked the wrong books to start with (the first one being Kraken). The Last Days of New Paris is an alternate history of Paris after France falls to Nazi occupation. A secret group of resistance fighters called the Main a Plume (I think) has brought to life various things from surrealist paintings (called manifs) to help them fight the Nazis. We follow MC Thibaut, a member of the main a plume, as he wanders the ruins of New Paris searching for a way out.
My issue with a lot of this book, is that honestly, I just didn’t understand the narrative. I understood the overall story arc, what happens to each character, how things came to be, etc. but if I was trying to put together a timeline and location of events for someone else to follow, I wouldn’t make it very far. I constantly felt like I was missing some key piece of information- asking myself “where are we now?” and “why are we here?” and “who are you again?”. It’s very frustrating.
I think I’ve said this before, I don’t mind working a little harder to understand a book, but the pay off needs to be worth it. I didn’t feel like it was worth it here. The characters, while they had some cool abilities, just weren’t anything special. You ever meet someone who speaks, maybe not in monotone, but without a lot of inflection? Rarely shows enthusiasm or feeling about anything in particular? Never smiles or laughs? Thibaut felt that way for me (and granted, there probably wasn’t a whole lot to laugh about in Nazi occupied France). Sam was better, but she’s more of a side character.
The “magic” system (if it can be called that) is very cool and totally unique and I loved some of the imagery we are given, but magic systems alone have never been enough to sell me and there wasn’t a whole lot explained about this one. There was a little bit of humor in the book too, which I appreciated.
My favorite part of the book was the afterword, in which Mieville tells a very bizarre story about how he came to write this very bizarre story. I couldn’t decide if that story was truth or fiction, or if the person he talks about is some kind of dimension hopping hero or someone who suffered dementia, but it was still a cool addition to the book. I wish Mieville had included it as a foreword, because I think understanding the context in which this was written goes a long way toward understanding the story overall (so if you decide to try this, read that first).
Overall- a story worth reading if you are a fan of Mieville, but I don’t think I’d recommend it as a starting point. I think I’ll give one more book of his a try (I already own The City & The City after all) but if it turns out to be another three star read I think I’m going to have to part ways with Mieville.