Bas-Lag Reading Project: Iron Council Part Two: Returns
Iron Council is probably the least popular of the three Bas-Lag books. The reasons why are readily and easily apparent. The book is markedly different from Perdido Street Station and The Scar given its more experimental structure. Another reason is the confrontational nature of the politics of the book. Perdido and Scar are political, but their politics are subsumed by the adventure the protagonists endure. Iron Council transforms a socialist narrative into myth.
The second part of Iron Council, “Returns,” is a departure from “Trappings.” The story shifts from Cutter and Judah to a working chap named Ori. Like the other main characters, Ori is a dissident. He buys Runagate Rampant, attends the furtive discussions, aids in subversive artistic endeavors, etc. But he is becoming ever more militant. He wants to do something rather than just sit around and talk about it. This leads, then, to his recruitment by the successors of Jack-Half-a-Prayer.
To be honest, I’m not too fond of Ori. His delusions of agency seem reminiscent of the Red Army Faction. Ori’s transition to violent militancy is almost parody at times. But I think the passion is there, which makes Ori such an uncomfortable character at times.
What I find interesting about this section are four things: The man who “attacks” Jack, Spiral Jacobs, What happened to New Crobuzon, and Tesh and the Witchocracy.
I think it is quite clear that the fate of Yag is revealed in this section. The scarred man with a scarf covering his face with a fondness for whips is almost certainly Yagherek (last seen ripping his feathers off in Perdido Street Station). What happened to him between the time of The Plague of Nightmares and the execution of Jack is unknown, and his subsequent fate is equally as murky.
I love Spiral Jacobs. When he appears, he is so fascinating. Personally, I love how he affects the whole of the novel. And the hints to the truth are so sweet. . .
New Crobuzon has entered or re-entered the late Victorian (equivalent) period. There have been some advances and some declines. The Constructs have been wiped out, the Construct Council destroyed. Golems have replaced the constructs as unintelligent labor.
And, New Crobuzon has begun shifting from an industrial/ manufacturing economy to a merchant/ service economy. Factories are closing and shops are opening. Salacus Fields is being gentrified by the idle rich who have come to tour rather than slum.
But what most interests me is the Tesh War. In the twenty years since Perdido and Scar, New Crobuzon has made trading arrangements with the Witchocracy. New and exotic goods have come to New Crobuzon by sea. Things are looking up even if there is a depression going on. Tourism to the Witchocracy even seems to be in existence! But then, New Crobuzon faces its usual maritime trade problems- damn piracy. This time, it seems to be the Teshi, whose tramp ambassador informs the Mayor that Tesh is at war with New Crobuzon.
Despite the fact that the reasons for the war are hidden, they are actually quite simple. Trade and power, imperialism. Tesh acts, I think, as a middle man. Trade has to pass through them. But New Crobuzon has bypassed them some how. And the Tesh do not like that. Conversely, it could be a Fennec, and New Crobuzon is the aggressor targeting Tesh’s local hegemony. In a way, an actualization of the aborted conflict with the Gengris from The Scar. Be sure, I have more on this for part three.
Anyway, to conclude, I want to propose my theory of some of the historical inspirations for Iron Council. First of all, I think the mercantile imperialism of the early nineteenth century, the aggressive cornering of exclusive markets. And perhaps the opening of Japan is another influence. The Tesh War also has shades (clearer in Part Three) of the Boer War. And Ori’s militarization is reminiscent of the anarchists of the nineteenth and early twentieth century as well as (perhaps) radicals like the Red Army Faction.
Any way, that is it for now. Next is “Wine Land.”