The Last Days of New Paris
by China Miéville
Cover Artist: Claudia Carlsen / Shutterstock
Review by Benjamin Wald
Del Rey Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780345543998
Date: 09 August 2016 List Price $25.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
As with many of China Miéville's best loved works, his new novel explores a weird and fantastical city. Unlike his previous works, this city is a transformed version of a real world city--Paris. In The Last Days of New Paris, Miéville explores Paris under the Nazi occupation. But Paris has been transformed by the detonation of the mysterious S bomb. Now, surrealist art has come to life. These figures that manifest from paintings or poems are called manifs, and they stalk the city, clashing with Nazis and trapped residents alike. The Nazis have formed a fragile alliance with hell, commanding demons to fight the manifs and the resistance movements. Through this transformed Paris, Thibault carries on his resistance to the Nazi invasion as a member of the Main à plume, Surrealist artists turned resistance fighters.
The plot proceeds in two strands. One follows Thibault, as he falls in with a mysterious woman named Sam who is one of the few to enter New Paris, past the Nazi quarantine. She claims to be documenting it for a book, but Thibualt begins to suspect she is more than she seems, even as he hears rumors of a Nazi superweapon code named "fall rot". Meanwhile, the other plot thread takes us back to before the explosion of the S bomb, and shows how New Paris came to be.
Much of the joy of this book, like with many of Miéville's novels, is the pure exuberance of imagination on display. The fact that the creations are here drawn from real life surrealist artworks makes their manifestation and the colorful descriptions Miéville provides, no less impressive than the wholly fabricated creations in his previous novels. He also succeeds in evoking a unique feel for New Paris, a city haunted by art in which even demons feel nervous and out of place.
Unfortunately, the climax of the novel falls somewhat short. It feels almost incidental, given the joys of just exploring New Paris. In a rushed sequence we are given an ever growing number of "final boss" style confrontations. None of the threats feel particularly threatening, since they are each introduced and then dispatched within a few pages of appearing. Indeed, the plotting throughout is a bit too "pulp" for my taste, with unconvincing secret agendas and a series of superweapons each defeated by a new and even more powerful superweapon that the protagonists produce essentially from nowhere.
Still, while it is a shame that the atmosphere and writing couldn't have been matched to a more fitting plot, the novel as a whole is still enjoyable. It gives a new and intriguing spin to Miéville’s skill at building imaginary cities and monsters, and its short length ensures it doesn't overstay its welcome. While this is not yet the masterpiece that many keep waiting for Miéville to produce, it is certainly worth a read.
From: Terence Blake
THE LAST DAYS OF NEW PARIS by China Miéville awakens our sense of wonder with the explosion of imagery, of erudition, and of poetry that the book contains. The novella embodies what it describes: the surrealist Resistance to the Nazi occupation of Paris has led to the creation of a surrealist bomb, whose explosion produces an "S-Blast" that has liberated a myriad of "manifestations", impossible entities freed from surrealist painting and sculptures to wreak havoc on the Nazi occupying forces. It is at once a masterfully told story and an inspiring manifesto, an ode to the liberating power of poetic fantasy, and to the creations, and the lives, of those who are steeped in it. Full review here: https://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2016/08/18/weird-ontology-and-noetic-estrangement-china-mievilles-the-last-days-of-new-paris/