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Worlds apart

I finished China Mieville's The Scar last night, and am close to finishing Anthony Trollope's Barchester Towers; it may be possible to read two books that have less in common with each other, though they both come from English writers, but I daresay it would take some work.

The Scar seems to take place immediately after the events in Mieville's first novel about New Crobuzon, Perdido Street Station, though the two novels have no characters in common and almost none of the action in The Scar takes place in the city itself. Rather, most of the action takes place on the vast floating city of Armada, a nation of pirates, their captives, and the ReMade slaves they've freed to become citizens of the pirate city. Armada is ruled by The Lovers, a couple bound to each other by sex, power, and ritual scarification, and they have a plan for the city, a plan that involves capturing a semi-mythological creature called an avanc. Of course things are never so simple and straightforward in a Mieville novel; one might almost think that the steampunk fantasy world of Bas-Lag itself militates against it, with its vampires, cactus-men, anophelii, and other races, some of which are mere legends to the people of Armada until they come among them. On top of all this, there is Uther Doul, an enigmatic but powerful character who wields the Might Sword but seems to be only the enforcer and bodyguard of The Lovers. It's all very weird, and best taken in small doses to avoid sensory overload; as in so much English steampunk, the very pages reek of baroque, obsolescent decadence with a dash of Elizabethan lace and ruffles over the unwashed bodies. Recommended.

On the other hand, there's Barchester Towers, a stately soap-opera whose premises might as well be science-fiction for an American reader unfamiliar with the tangled skeins of political patronage and religious function that was the C.of E. during the Victorian Era. Barcester is an unremarkable city in western England, where the elderly bishop has just died. His son the archdeacon had expected the post, but unfortunately the Government has fallen and instead the incoming ministers appoint one Dr. Proudie to the post of bishop, and there the fun begins. The new bishop is not alone, you see; he has a rather headstrong wife and a scheming chaplain, with their own notions of how the diocese is to be run, and both of them expecting the bishop to do as they suggest. Add in the clash between High-Church Anglicans and Low-Church Anglicans, a moderately wealthy young widow, the former hospital warden from the previous volume left over for this one, and the excessively worldly children of Vicar Stanhope, and things get interesting real quick. I probably would have enjoyed it more if the pages in the edition I borrowed from the library hadn't been perversely out of order; I intend to reread it now that I've downloaded it from Project Gutenberg along with the other five novels in the Chronicles of Barsetshire.
It's an interesting read, notable for Trollope's frequent breaking of the fourth wall; hard to ay what made me pick it up, aside from a memory of my Grandpa Trainor reading The Warden during one of my family's occasional visits to Bradford.

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