Bas-Lag Reading Project-The Scar Part Five: Storms
Storms bookend the fifth part of The Scar, one real and one artificial. This is where the avanc is raised and the conflicts for the rest of the novel are laid down. There are two key point of “Storms” that fascinate me: who is the antagonist and Uther Doul.
Bellis is undoubtedly the protagonist of the novel. She has the most point of view chapters and much of the action is colored through her goals and desires. With this laid out, we can ask: who is the antagonist?
Personally, I think that it is the Lovers. What is Bellis’s goal? To return home to New Crobuzon (and to save them from a Gengris invasion). While the lingering menace would be the Gengris, the immediate opposition to Bellis achieving her goals is embodied in the Lovers.
From their original presentation as a powerful, highly in love, and united duo, the Lovers degenerate into two people wishing to become one. As Bellis states, it is not love so much as masturbation. Most characters seem to see them as a great force, as strong leaders. A power seems to rest in their unity and the mirrored scars that they inflict on each other.
But for Bellis, that power has been rendered null. She does not see, either because of her own desire to return home or Uther Doul’s manipulations, or accept their charisma. I wonder if that is not Doul’s plan. Of course, I’ll get to what Doul’s plan is at the end, when everything is revealed (or maybe not).
Uther Doul is the lieutenant of the main antagonists. He is perhaps the strongest warrior in all of Bas-Lag. Indeed, he is nigh on unbeatable. On one level, he is as boring as hell. And on another, he is perhaps the most enigmatic character in the novel.
In terms of combat, he comes off as extremely boring. He can’t lose a fight. Or at least he doesn’t during the course of the novel. This unbeatable quality rather makes him boring.
But he is saved as a character by his back story and his mystery. What is he after? Does he secretly oppose the Lovers’ final plans? If he does, why not cut them down himself instead of manipulating the Brucolac and Bellis to do it more haphazardly? Is this a case of obfuscation for the sake of obfuscation?
Some of Doul’s history if revealed (and it gives us a chance to talk about his home city of High Cromlech). High Cromlech is a necropolis, a city of the walking and living dead. The city is a caste society headed by liches called thanati. A lich is a fully functional undead individual. Below them are the quick- humans still living. The quick are composed of a small number of free living who do jobs that the thanati do not wish to do and the zombies too incompetent to perform. Other quick are raised on farms where they will most likely be snuffed and transformed into zombies, or if they are lucky, adopted by the thanati as a member of high society. Below the quick are the zombies, the primary workforce of High Cromlech. At the very bottom of the ladder are the vampir, who are treated with the same disdain as homeless junkies. It is this attitude towards vampir that prevents the Brucolac from intimidating Doul. While most people shake on seeing a vampir, Doul only sees the pathetic junkie.
Doul himself comes from the free quick. His mother seems to have been a respected, important business woman. Long after Doul left the city, she had herself snuffed and transformed into a thanati. This mirrors, perhaps, retiring to the country after years in mercantile business in the Victorian period.
All of this is interesting, but it doesn’t answer the core question: what does Doul want with Bellis? It is clear that he is cultivating her for some reason that remains unclear. She is certainly attracted to him and is inscribing to him similar feelings. Personally, I think that he had little interest in her until he saw her looking at the female Lover. Something caught his eye looking at how Bellis reacted and he decided to approach her. Gauging her responses, he decided that she could be of use to him. But what remains unclear at this moment.
The implication, as stated earlier, seems to be that he opposes the Lovers’ plans, but is unwilling to directly intervene. A very “cool” character, if not one of my favorites.