Steampunk Book Review: Perdido Street Station by China Mieville

Perdido Street Station black cover

I’ve had this title on my TBR list forever because I have seen it mentioned on several Steampunk lists. During my long trip in April I got the unabridged version on audiobook and it carried me all the way from Minnesota to Ohio and back before I even finished it! It would be interesting to grab a print copy now and see what was cut, but I have a feeling I already know. There are a series of vignettes that are beautifully written, but they are only tangential to the plot and are in a different POV than the rest of the book.

Perdido Street Station is one of those works that was given the Steampunk label, but depending on how narrow of a definition you like to use for yourself, you may find it to be too far afield. For instance, the world of this book is pure fiction and is occupied by several different species of sentient beings in addition to boring old humans. Some are more insectile, others are cactus-like, as well as 7-foot tall bird people and these amphibious folks who can control water. These different races all live together, but separately, in a huge industrial city, which serves as a great lens through which to approach some of the problems in the Victorian era with xenophobia. In a twist that would put a smile on Doctor Moreau’s face, criminals are not imprisoned or executed, but given surgical alterations and implants to mark them outwardly as untrustworthy. All in all, a fascinating and unique setting.

Perdido Street Station artwork no title

The story centers on a Isaac, a scientist who is approached by one of these bird people. He had violated some sort of law in his community in the desert and the punishment was to remove his wings, so he wants Isaac to find some way for him to fly again. To get a better handle on the issue, the scientist puts out a message through the both the university and black market channels that he wants to study all manner of flying animals, including larval forms.

But when a strange caterpillar finally gets a hold of its true source of food and it pupates, Isaac, and the whole city, get far more than they bargained for.

I really enjoyed this book, but it is not for everyone. Mieville’s prose are fall on the Poe/Lovecraftian end of the spectrum, meaning that they are rich and visceral but not always pleasant. And by the end of this unabridged version, I was really ready for it to be over, so I’d say go for the abridged version if all you want is the story. If you want to enjoy some beautiful writing and intensive world-building, check out the full version.


  1. Thanks for the review. I really liked this book, and The Scar which is the sequel (sort of). Much less steampunky but books by him I’d recommend are The City and The City and to a lesser extent Kraken. Especially the first one which is sort of Kafka Noir.


      1. Thanks! Maybe I should patent that. For Kraken…there really is no way to describe it. Make sure you have a cushion on your lap for when your jaw drops 🙂


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