Guys. Guys. Do yourselves a favour and read this book.
New Crobuzon is a dirty, sprawling, foetid city (think Ankh-Morpork but without the charm) at the centre of Bas-Lag, a vast and hostile world of deserts and wandering libraries and strange storms. It's populated by humans, mutants, half-breeds and aliens, by ancient, fearsome intelligences and coal-driven robots. It trades, it lives, it breathes, it swallows up refugees and visitors and denizens and spits them out again robbed of everything.
And to this city, terrible, dark, merciless, living city, comes Yagharek, a fugitive from justice out in the baking deserts of the Cymek. He wants to fly, and engages an academic, Isaac Grimnebulin, to help him do so. That request precipitates a crisis, and unleashes a terrible psychic menace upon the city (I won't say exactly what, because finding out is all part of the fun) which Isaac and Friends - including his lover Lin, who is a kind of humanoid insect, as well as radical publisher Derkhan Blueday and criminal facilitator Lemuel Pigeon - try to combat in various intriguing and intrepid ways.
The thing is, Perdido Street Station is utterly unlike anything I have ever read before. I keep coming up with analogues, but all of them are qualified: an adult Edge Chronicles; Terry Pratchett but without the humour; Dickens but with more magic and sex and violence. And partly because it is so unprecedented in my experience, I found it an incredibly difficult book to read, in more ways than one. Mieville is uncompromising. His world is unmitigatedly (but never gratuitously) violent, and amoral; even the "goodies" (note the scare quotes) occasionally find themselves in need of a blunt instrument or a spelled weapon. He pulls no punches emotionally: no sugar-coating, no rose-tinting, no looking-away from the difficult bits. This book made me angry. It made me desperately sad. It made me unbearably happy. It made me punch the air, and cry, and laugh, and gasp, and chew my nails (pro tip: don't read this on public transport if you don't want people to think you are strange). This phrase gets overused a lot, but here it's absolutely warranted: THE FEELS. Oh, the feels.
And the best thing? Not only is Perdido Street Station a terrifically exciting, inventive story with excellent characterisation; it's also incredibly intellectually dense. You know when you're reading something, and you get the feeling that you should be paying a whole lot more attention, because there's something really interesting going on behind the story, but you don't know quite what it is? That's how I felt about halfway through Perdido Street Station. There's a fascinating discussion here about art, and dreams, and what it means to be conscious, and whether consciousness is the same as humanity; about racism, and multiculturalism, and what the melting-pot does to new cultures. You could write a dissertation on this book and still not get to the bottom of everything there is to say.
I'm not sure how coherent this post has been. If you take nothing else away from it, take this: Perdido Street Station is the reason fantasy exists. It is a brilliant example of what the genre does best: it picks up our assumptions, shakes them upside down, breaks them, deconstructs them and puts them back together somewhere else, somewhere new.
Also: Perdido Street Station is a bloody good book.