Bas-Lag Reading Project Iron Council Part 4: The Hainting
We leave the history of Judah Low and the Perpetual Train/ Iron Council behind and return to the New Crobuzon of the present. “The Hainting” is incredibly short and serves mostly to build up tension as the Tesh begin making their moves against New Crobuzon itself and the tensions within the city begin to ratchet up towards a spectacular explosion. And it is a further exploration of Ori’s partly delusional, partly gang mentality.
Part of the interest of Ori’s point of view is his increasing isolation from everything else save his life in Toro’s Gang. He has completely identified himself with the group and no longer can see what is going on outside of that group. It is clear that his complaints about the Caucus not doing anything is increasingly wrong, but he does not see that. The power of agency is slowly shifting from Toro and her gang to a more organized rebellion. It is what Ori wants, and he refuses to see it. Iron Council is coming, and so is the revolution.
But, Toro and her gang are planning something big. Obviously, given the language used, they are targeting the Mayor for assassination. This will destabilize New Crobuzon aplenty. So, does the agency really change or is it more shared, but Ori is too blind, or self involved, to see it.
That Ori is truly self involved is beyond question. He has quickly (too quickly if you ask me) positioned himself as a key member of the gang, largely due to his monetary contributions (donated by Spiral Jacobs, how does that crazy old man have that much money?). It is he who recruits the angry and disaffected Baron to the gang, a man who brings fear to his fellow gang members. Baron is Militia, a hardcore soldier who can kill without remorse, with his eyes open. This raises plenty of questions about Toro’s Gang as all of them have trouble killing, even Militia informants. Is Toro’s Gang as hardcore, as ruthless as they seem to be?
Speaking of Baron, it seems that the war may be going in Tesh’s favor, or at least a stalemate. I still think that Tesh is at the disadvantage, at least at first. The fighting is taking place far closer to Tesh than to New Crobuzon. But, Tesh’s fighting techniques are truly frightening.
New Crobuzon uses a combination of traditional military technologies as well as steam punk science and thaumaturgy. New Crobuzon also uses techniques that the reader would easily recognize, the propaganda of freedom, liberation, and opposition to tyranny (Rudgutter makes the distinction in Perdido Street Station). Despite the strangeness, New Crobuzon is still a weird London.
Tesh is alien. Tesh’s weapons of war all seem to operate on more thaumaturgic principles. Toothbombs? really? Tesh has been described as having strange sciences and thaumaturgies compared to New Crobuzon. And Rudgutter has stated that Tesh is a land ruled by witches. Tesh also uses suicide bombers, using children imbued with hexes to attack the Militia. And then, there are some of the casualties, the Tesh are not nice.
The war is horrible, brutal, nasty, and utterly inhuman on both sides. So, why does the Caucus want New Crobuzon to lose? Well, the same reason that the Bolsheviks profited from Russia’s defeat in both the Russo-Japanese War and World War I. The Russian loss in 1905 severely weakened the power of the government, and World War I utterly obliterated the authority of the Romanovs, allowing the Bolsheviks to take over. New Crobuzon is exhausted, it cannot continue to fight the war in Tesh and deal with a restive population. The war has forced Parliament to begin talking to the unions and less radical dissidents. But a defeat would weaken New Crobuzon to the point of revolution. The Caucus sees a New Crobuzon defeat as a means of either gaining more power or sweeping into power.
At this point in the novel, Tesh is winning the war, managing to outfight New Crobuzon. Indeed, Tesh is described as New Crobuzon’s equal. The leadership seems to be suing for peace, but do not know who to go to. Who do they talk to? The embassy in New Crobuzon is empty, New Crobuzon’s embassy has likely been executed, and communication is almost impossible. Now, there is a problem. In Perdido Street Station, it is stated that Teshi utilize tramp ambassadors. They don’t utilize an embassy, but they utilize the postal service. Why not just send a letter to the Teshi embassy, the ambassador should be able to get it.
Any way, that is it with this section, save to state that the Teshi eye in the sun is an amazing moment, a truly chilling and frightening scene. I am thinking, after I finish Iron Council, of writing at least two or three additional posts: A Defense of New Crobuzon, An Exploration of Tesh, and The Teshi War. Next time, we see what Iron Council has become in “Retread.”