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Embassytown by China Miéville

May 5, 2011


Embassytown: a city of contradictions on the outskirts of the universe.

Avice is an immerser, a traveller on the immer, the sea of space and time below the everyday, now returned to her birth planet. Here on Arieka, humans are not the only intelligent life, and Avice has a rare bond with the natives, the enigmatic Hosts – who cannot lie.

Only a tiny cadre of unique human Ambassadors can speak Language, and connect the two communities. But an unimaginable new arrival has come to Embassytown. And when this Ambassador speaks, everything changes.

Catastrophe looms. Avice knows the only hope is for her to speak directly to the alien Hosts.

And that is impossible.


There is no doubt that China Miéville has a lot to live up to with his latest novel Embassytown.China is after all a three-time winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award as well as a winner of the British Fantasy Award twice. The great thing about Miéville is that you know you can expect something different with every novel that he writes.

Embassytown is science fiction with a literary twist, and Miéville finally gets a chance to write what he knows best within this novel: language. Anyone familiar with his work will know that Miéville has a definite passion and love of language – the words he uses throughout his novels sometimes leave you reaching for the dictionary, aching to discover just what the hell Miéville is trying to say.

It was only a few months ago that I reviewed The City and The City by Miéville, with it being the only novel of his that I have read so far, it is all that I have to compare Embassytown with. I had expected, with me not being much of science fiction reader, to struggle to understand Embassytown the way I struggled with The City and The City. However, I was very surprised to find Embassytown a much easier read.

The thing that makes you understand Embassytown more than anything else is the character of Avice. The novel is told from a first-person perspective, through the eyes of Avice, an immerser who travels the universe only to find that she has fallen for someone from another planet, and together they decide to return back to her home of Embassytown. There are many events that unfold throughout, but we witness it exactly as Avice does, and it is up to her to explain them to us just as she is figuring them out for herself. I found Avice an extremely likeable character, and I often find myself turning page after page as I became immersed in her world.

Embassytown is home to not only humans like Avice but other races as well, and most particularly the native aliens known as the Hosts, who speak Language. There are only a small group of genetically-engineered people in Embassytown that can speak Language and communicate with the Hosts, and these are known as the Ambassadors – each Ambassador is two clones which when speaking together can emulate the sounds of the Hosts and are able to hold conversations with them in order to keep the peace of Embassytown.

The problem with these Hosts is that they are unable to speak any kind of lie. It is through the help of Avice and others that they gradually learn to lie, but this together with the arrival of a new Ambassador, makes life as they know it in Embassytown change forever.

As you can probably tell, it is a very difficult storyline to try to explain, and I have failed a couple of times when trying to describe it to my friends. Before I started reading Embassytown , and I read the blurb, I don’t think I even understood then what it was really about. But the way Miéville has written it through the eyes of Avice, it becomes a lot easier to get your head around, I assure you!

I have never read anything like Embassytown before, and I’m sure I never will again. Miéville never fails to astound me with how creative and imaginative it is when it comes to writing his novels, and just how original his work actually is. I think Embassytown will be a lot more accessible to science fiction lovers than perhaps his other books have been in the past. Miéville really has proved himself as one of the best genre writers of modern times.

Embassytown is ultimately a story of survival. Of several races trying to co-exist in one place together, of trying to bridge the gap of communication and live peacefully. It makes you think about the importance of language and the way we use it. You will question things you never dared question before, and you will look at language and people in a whole new light.

If I am honest I would say that I much preferred The City and The City to Embassytown, but ultimately that could be because I loved the infusion of crime and science fiction within The City and The City, despite it being the harder read of the two. However, I have no doubt in my mind that science fiction lovers will devour Embassytown and be left in awe after turning the last page.

I can only imagine what China Miéville will come up with next…

Embassytown is published 6th May 2011 by Pan Macmillan and is being released alongside his backlist, which now have all brand new covers!

To read my review of The City and The City click here.


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6 Comments leave one →
  1. May 5, 2011 19:32

    I really can’t wait to read this. I love the idea of how aliens would use (or not use) language, and how that would truly be the biggest barrier. And the idea that a culture can not lie, that their language has no method for that, in a silly way makes me think of the alien race from Galaxy Quest, they can’t lie, and don’t understand “acting”. And then, in a not silly way, it makes me think of bio-luminescent sea creatures, their color change is communication but also instinct, they aren’t really capable of lying.

    • May 5, 2011 20:12

      I think you have a much better grasp of it all than I do and I’ve read it! hehe. Maybe it’s my lack of sci-fi reading… ! I can see now that you will almost certainly enjoy Embassytown! Will look forward to reading your review of it when you’ve read it! 🙂


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