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Literature: The Scar

China Miéville's second book in the Bas Lag Cycle, first published in 2002. Despite being a stand-alone novel, it takes place immediately after the events of Perdido Street Station.

In the aftermath of The Plague of Nightmares, Bellis Coldwine, a brilliant linguist, knows that it will just be a matter of time before New-Crobuzon's terrifying Secret Police drag her away for a questioning that she will undoubtedly never return from. Bellis negotiates her way on to the Terpsichoria, a ship heading to escape to the colony Nova Esperium, acting as a translator to the captain when liaising with the Salkrikaltor Cray.

Shortly after this meeting, the ship is captured by pirates from the floating nation of Armada. All of the people aboard Bellis' ship are press-ganged into joining Armada and integrated into its community.

Despite quickly learning the local language, Bellis becomes homesick for the very place that threatened to kill her. In her attempts to return home, she discovers secrets about Armada that challenge the millenia-long peace that the nation has enjoyed and threaten to destroy Armada itself.

The Scar provides examples of:

  • Alien Invasion: The now-defunct Ghosthead Empire.
  • Alternative Calendar: Armada uses a different calendar than the one used in New Crobuzon, which in turn, is still different from the one used on Earth.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: Subverted, the Grindylows are set up like this, but it is revealed they are merely zealous defenders of hearth and home.
    • Doesn't make the measures they take to get the job done any less horrifying, though.
  • Amplified Animal Aptitude: Dolphins are much smarter than their earth counterparts. They hold jobs and give themselves names.
  • Artifact of Doom: Silas steals a statue from the grindylow which grants him mysterious powers, yet has the unfortunate side effect of slowly turning him into a Fish Person.
  • Attack of the Monster Appendage: The avanc's anatomy is unknown even to the researchers who summoned it. Only a section of its back is ever shown, although the shape of its harness suggests it has at least one limb. Hedrigall's story at the end claims it has a head also, but it's unclear whether his description is A) a lie, or B) from a might-have-been alternate history in which the avanc might've looked different than the factual one.
  • Badass: Uther Doul, perhaps the only outright badass in the trilogy. The Brucolac may also qualify. Uther Doul does manage to beat up The Brucolac, but getting beat up by Uther Doul is like getting beat up by Godzilla.
  • Badass Bookworm: Uther Doul, as well - despite being possibly the most deadly thing alive, he is an archaeologist, THE authority on the history of the Ghosthead Empire, and a master of probability theory.
  • Bee People: The Anophelii.
  • Bizarrchitecture: Armada is an entire metropolis built atop lashed-together sea vessels of all sizes and designs.
  • Blood Sport: A very literal example with the ritual fights of the scabmettlers. They drink a special herbal concoction, dip knives into the liquid and begin to cut themselves in intricate patterns. The unique physiology of scabmettlers makes the blood congeal quickly (but not immediately, as it would without the herbs) into a form of elaborate armour to enhance each individual scabmettler's style of fighting.
  • Bloody Murder: The scabmettlers are of a race whose blood clots extremely quickly. Before going into battle, they cut themselves in certain ritualistic pattern, and the results blood flows harden into armor and weapons. Blessed with Suck to some extent, since they need to medicate themselves constantly or risk spontaneous clots that will turn them into statues.
  • Body Horror:
    • While the remade have enough Body Horror for all three books, Tanner Sack gets a special mention for willingly getting himself remade a second time to make himself amphibious.
    • The anophelii suck all the fluids right out of a body, and are able to shrivel a person into a papery mummy in a minute flat. They also bloat up and become fat and bulgy as they do this.
    • the description of what Silas Fennec's Magus Fin-empowered saliva does to a person's flesh is the stuff of nightmares.
  • Break the Haughty: Bellis Coldwine, possessed of a contemptuous demeanor and somewhat of a surly Deadpan Snarker. She jots down snide remarks about most people she meets, looks down on most of them, and appears to be more than a little xenophobic—and that's before being press-ganged, whereupon she starts displaying some understandable resentment toward Armada.
  • Come to Gawk: The Brucolac is hung up atop a ship's mast and left there. Being a vampire, he is slowly dying of exposure to sunlight before he is finally taken down.
  • Confusion Fu: Uther Doul has a probability-altering sword. It passes through all the paths it could potentially have taken with each swing, and he's taught himself a style inflected with randomness to maximize the effect.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Bellis was described briefly in Perdido Street Station as Isaac's lover before Lin, a brilliant linguist who had grown bored with Isaac's "rambunctiousness" and broken his heart.
    • The reason that Bellis has to flee New Crobuzon being The Plague of Nightmares. AKA the effects of five slake moths being loose in the city.
  • Didn't See That Coming: The New Crobuzon fleet pays a high price for Fennec's having overlooked the tugboats' potential as explosive ramships.
  • Cunning Linguist: Bellis fills this role on the ship, complete with being both cunning and unapproachable.
  • Dungeon Punk: Thaumaturgy is the universe's form of magic, and just about everyone can use it to at least a small extent. Bellis uses it to boost her concentration when trying to learn a language.
  • Environmental Symbolism: The city of Armada is a congealed mass of ships, which is perfectly appropriate given that its inhabitants steal almost everything they need. Additionally, the vampire who rules one section lives in a freakish-looking ship that sails on moonlight.
  • Everything's Even Worse with Sharks
  • Evil Plan: Silas Fennec's ultimate plan.
  • Faceless Goons: The Militia, who do end up making an appearance in this book.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: While little of it is ever shown, Nova Esperium is almost certainly intended to be a stand-in for Australia.
  • Fish People: The aquatic races, most notably the Grindylow.
  • Gainax Ending: A large number of questions about the plot are deliberately left ambiguous in order to allow the reader to come up with his or her own conclusions.
  • Giant Equals Invincible: Averted, the gargantuan avanc slowly succumbs to infection after it gets injured by the grindylow. We don't actually see what weapons they'd used to damage it, but the lakeful of pus it emits while ailing is a definite sign that it's the infection, not the wounds themselves, that proves fatal.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: You'd be hard pressed to find anyone who can figure out where the Lovers sit on this scale, but damn do they ever.
  • Hazardous Water: Gigantic armoured sharks are not even close to being the worst things to be found in the sea of The Scar.
  • Horde of Alien Locusts
  • Improbable Weapon User: Uther Doul uses a sword with an attached "probability engine," which causes every strike he makes to be every possible strike he could have made. (Hence "improbable" may not be the word for it, but....)
  • Intrepid Merchant: Silas Fennec.
  • Kaiju: The avanc is an unusual variant, as this gargantuan marine creature didn't destroy a city by stomping through it, but by dragging the floating city of Armada to its doom in the titular Scar. Or not.
  • Killer Rabbit: The head of Armada's underwater police force is a sadistic dolphin named Bastard John.
    • Sadistic dolphin is sort of redundant.
  • Kraken and Leviathan: The avanc.
  • Kuudere: Bellis Coldwine in The Scar. Possibly a Stealth Parody of "strong, beautiful, and forceful" female protagonists in contemporary fantasy literature.
  • Magic Compass: When pirates are on long voyages away from the floating city of Armada, they have compasses that always point to Armada to find their way back.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Uther Doul is either this or Magnificent Bastard, depending on your interpretation. He knows that the Lovers' plan will get them all killed (if you believe that; arguably, that part could have been a lie too), but he doesn't want to be shown doing anything himself to oppose the Lovers, so he manipulates Bellis by giving just enough information to start a rebellion of Armada's citizens, even indulging her growing infatuation with him. Many readers fell for it hook, line, and sinker, thinking he'd become an Anti-Villain in time and end up with Bellis, and oh how wrong they were. The revelation that he never felt anything for Bellis, and was only using her, was pretty harsh.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Bellis Coldwine
    • Silas Fennec: Fennecs are foxes known for their large ears. Silas is a sly person known for dealing in information.
  • Mermaid Problem: Averted with the khepri, who have a bug head and a human body, but played straight with the Cray, who are basically crayfish centaurs (crayfish/lobster bodies with human faces and torsos).
    • A more specific example not actually involving merfolk confronts a young man in love with a Remade woman, as her legs are permanently embedded inside a steam engine. Lucky for them, her actual genitalia are still human, and both of them are pretty flexible.
  • Mouth Stitched Shut: Many undead inhabitants of High Cromlech have had this done to them, which is why their national language uses eye rolling and other subtle signals rather than words.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Uther Doul. Even within the novel.
  • Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: The Scar, being set in both a pirate nation and Bas-Lag is absolutely rife with these. Cactus pirates, vampire pirates, giant-scarab-headed women librarian pirates... You get the idea.
  • The Necrocracy: High Cromlech.
  • Not So Different: Uther Doul and Silas Fennec, as Bellis realises at the end. They both are Manipulative Bastards, and both was using Bellis, but never felt anything for her.
  • Not So Stoic: Bellis hardly ever shows any outward emotion, except for one scene where she suddenly breaks down and starts crying upon the realization that she won't be able to get a message to her home warning them of an invasion, much less be able to return there. The character who discovers her breakdown is completely stunned.
  • Ocean Madness: Hedrigall decides to leave Armada, the floating city, and spends some time alone at sea. After he is found he has been driven mad by seeing his entire city destroyed.
  • Ocean Punk: This book, very much.
  • One-Gender Race:
    • The Khepri, who subvert this trope by having males that are giant non-sapient scarabs. The females are humanoid and intelligent, but have giant scarabs for heads.
    • The Anophelii are somewhat similar in this regard, but more time is given to the females. The female Anophelii are not purely monstrous, but due to the shape of their mouths they are unable to talk with the male Anophelii, leaving them as beasts with severely limited intelligence. Once fed, they are able to respond enthusiastically and positively to sentient creatures. Of course, they did spread over and rule most of the world during a dark time referred to as the Malarial Queendom, so they had their bad moments too, to say the least...
  • Our Mermaids Are Different:
  • Our Vampires Are Different: The ab-dead.
    • The ab-dead are stronger and faster than the living. They have forked tongues and can move almost imperceptibly in shadow. They heal quickly and do not age. Sunlight does not kill them immediately, especially older and stronger vampires, but it severely harms them and prolonged exposure will kill the ab-dead. Vampirism is caused by a virus in their saliva, and although infection is not guaranteed, repeated direct feedings can cause a human to become ab-dead.
    • The ab-dead live in secrecy throughout Bas-Lag except in Armada and High Cromlech. In Armada, the Brucolac and a cadre of his closest allies are the resident ab-dead and run the Dry Falls riding. Dry Falls is an area and political standing within the governing structure of Armada; residents of Dry Falls enjoy more political weight, subsidized entertainment and lighter disciplinary actions than other ridings, but pay for this with the gore-tax, a routine collection of blood from Dry Falls residents. In High Cromlech, the city of the dead, the ab-dead live in the open, but make up the lowest class, even below that of the living. The dead of High Cromlech protect the living from the predations of the ab-dead, and therefore, ab-dead are reduced to begging for handouts from the living and are considered to be junkies.
    • In Perdido Street Station, the single brief appearance of a vampire implied that the ab-dead in New Crobuzon appear to be completely normal people and live in secret.
  • Our Vampires Suck: Vampires are described as having a reputation as "junkies" among the other undead, and are considered to be the lowest of the low in High Cromlech, the city of the dead.
  • Pirates: The inhabitants of Armada basically.
  • Plant Aliens: The cactacae are cactus-people, though not alien.
  • Press-Ganged: Many of Armada's inhabitants.
  • Post-Modern Magik
  • Puny Earthlings
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Bellis fails in almost every endeavor she sets out to accomplish, which includes preventing the avanc from being summoned, saving New Crobuzon from an attack (which actually didn't exist), and preventing a civil war from breaking out between the citizens of Armada. She does manage to get back to New Crobuzon by the end, and she has shuffled off a lot of her unconscious, self-interested naivety in the process. As a plus, she's pretty much the only character who interacts with the Grindylow and doesn't end up brutally murdered. This is the happiest ending of the three novels.
  • The Reveal: Bellis's letter was being written to no one; she didn't have anyone in particular in mind.
  • Sapient Cetaceans: Sapient dolphins aid the security forces of the floating pirate settlement of Armada, and there's a small mention of sapient whales. Inverting typical presentations the main dolphin character is a sadist named Bastard John, while the whales are all extremely stupid dupes of the book's primary antagonists.
  • Sea Monster: The avanc.
  • Shout-Out: The physical description of the Brucolac makes him sound a lot like Kai from Lexx.
  • Shout-Out Theme Naming: The monster hunters are named after the characters from The Hunting of the Snark, but in different languages. Their leader is Tinntinnabulum - the Bellman, and their ship is the Castor - Beaver.
    • The names of all the ships that make up the pirate city of Armada have a connection with other works of literature involving ships. There's the Arronax (after the narrator of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea), Wintershaw Market (after the protagonist of William Hope Hodgson's Boats of the Glen Carrig) etc. The New Crobuzon ship that chases Armada is the Morning Walker.
    • The Grand Easterly is a clear expy of the real-life ship the Great Eastern.
  • Sidenote Full Story: Bellis gets a one-line mention in Perdido Street Station.
  • Smug Snake: Silas Fennec.
  • Sole Survivor: The nigh-Hedrigall, if indeed that's what he was.
  • Spam Attack: Justified in with Uther Doul's Possible Sword. Proof that China Miéville has read up on quantum mechanics, charging this weapon with current causes it to deliver every possible strike it could deliver, all at the same time. The more possible a strike is, the more solid the sword's edge will be for that strike. Targets of the Possible Sword come out looking like they've been run through a mincing machine.
  • Starfish Language: The undead inhabitants of High Cromlech "speak" a language called Quiesy. As many of the residents lack vocal equipment due to the mechanisms of their reanimation, or simply had their lips sewn together as part of a mummification process the language makes use of carefully timed periods of silence, eye rolling and presumably other facial body language.
  • Stealth Pun: The Brucolac... is a vampirate.
    • The artifact that Silas has is the Magus Fin, which turns out to not be very important (say it out loud and quickly if you're confused).
  • Storyboarding the Apocalypse: A big part of the climax; narrated by a minor character.
  • The Summation: Bellis tries to do one at the end of the novel, but admits she can't make heads or tales of Uther Doul's motivations, nor what he was actually planning.
    • She comes up with three very plausible theories about what actually happened. All of them are frustrating to her because all three scenarios involve her being manipulated by Uther Doul, so she doesn't bother verifying which is correct.
  • That's No Moon: Bellis finds out what it is Armada is looking for by means of a drawing in a book:
    She still did not take her gaze from the picture she held: a little man in a little ship on a sea of frozen waves that overlapped in perfect sequince-like fish scales, and below them deeps rendered in crosshatched and tightly spiraled ink, and at the bottom, easily eclipsing the vessel above, a circle in a circle in a circle, vast no matter how vague the perspective, unthinkably big, with darkness at its center. Looking up, looking up at the fisherman hunting his prey.
    Sclera, iris, and pupil.
    An eye.
  • Time Master: The Ghosthead Empire's probability magic falls somewhere between this trope and Winds of Destiny, Change.
  • Throw Away Guns: Uther Doul actually manages to use this effectively. He can throw an empty flintlock with enough force and accuracy to kill someone.
  • Underwater City: The city of the Salkrikaltor Cray (lobster-centaurs) is located at the bottom of the ocean.
  • The Unreveal: We never find out what is in the eponymous Scar, or how much of the events were due to Doul's ministrations and how much were chance, or indeed whether the character who warned that going over the Scar would lead Armada into certain doom was making the whole thing up.
  • Vertebrate with Extra Limbs: The Cray... sort of. Their upper bodies are anthropomorphic, but they have the lower-halves of lobsters. The Cray are pretty much half vertebrate, and they have the extra limbs on the invertebrate part of their bodies.
  • War Is Hell: The naval battle, seen through Tanner's eyes, is tragic and horrifying.
  • Working Class Hero: Tanner Sack.
  • Zeppelins from Another World: Armada has a number of airships, and alternate-universe Hedrigall manages to escape on one.
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