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Published in 2004, Iron Council is the latest and perhaps last book of China Mieville's Bas-Lag Cycle. Iron Council is held to be the most politically-charged installment in the series, which all things considered, is somewhat inevitable given the turbulent political climate that the book takes place in.
The main events in the book take place over twenty years after the events of Perdido Street Station and The Scar, and are not presented in a strictly chronological order. For the first time in the Bas-Lag Cycle, the book is narrated by several people, Cutter, Judah and Ori.
In Iron Council, New Crobuzon is at war with the rival city-state, Tesh. Within the city itself, political unrest abounds. There are many gangs, organizations and resistances protesting against the oppressive government, while the people themselves remain in silent support. It becomes quite clear that a civil war is about to break loose.
Meanwhile, a group of travelers trek across Bas-Lag in order to find the mysterious Iron Council, a group of renegade railway workers that turned against their employers to create an idyllic nomadic society built around a stolen train. The existence of the Iron Council is fabled by the citizens of New Crobuzon, and a bastion of hope against the tyrannical rule of the city. Because of this, the Militia of New Crobuzon send out elite troops to destroy it and crush the ideals that it represents.
Iron Council provides examples of the following tropes:
- AI Is a Crapshoot: The main reason the government of New Crobuzon outlawed all but the most minor and supervised use of constructs. The constructs were gaining self-awareness, and were summarily destroyed once the government found out. Golems, were then used to supplant constructs.
- Ambiguous Gender: Taken to the extreme, where one of the characters, devotee of a god of secrets, doesn't even know his/her own gender. Followers of this deity forfeit knowledge about themselves to honor their patron, and this particular priest lost knowledge of what sex he/she happened to be. Self-examination can't clarify matters, as the character is blind to his/her own body features.
- Ambiguously Bi: Judah is a really weird example. He's slept with people of both sexes, but even his lovers aren't sure whether it was out of lust or good-natured politeness.
- Author Tract: Mieville's socialist views are never more Anvilicious than in Iron Council.
- Author Vocabulary Calendar
- Bi the Way: Judah Low. May overlap with Single-Target Sexuality, at least where Ann-Hari is concerned as she's the only person he seems to show deep romantic affection for...except maybe Uzman, if that kiss was any indication.
- Body Horror:
- The Remade, of course.
- There's also the Torque, which turned a railway car full of people into a giant cell filled with blobs that wave at people and make cetacean-like sounds.
- Proasmae, which are flesh elementals. Think about that for a moment.
- Bury Your Gays: Oddly averted. In books where being a named character and being sympathetic/a decent human being is usually a recipe for death, and the named-protagonist body count runs into the double digits, Cutter manages to make it out mostly in one piece. Judah, however, does not.
- Capital City: New Crobuzon is enormous enough to be considered its own state, and is even at war with another city.
- Cavalry Betrayal
- Chekhov's Gunman:
- One character is described in an anecdote in Perdido Street Station, the very first book, before becoming a major player in this one.
- A character also mentions that the Ambassador from Tesh is a vagabond by custom, and in the last book this is important as the villain and source of impending arcane doom is Spiral Jacobs, the vagabond.
- Continuity Nod:
- Bellis Coldwine is said to be Isaac's girlfriend, after being the protagonist of The Scar.
- The Plague of Nightmares is also mentioned in passing.
- Ulliam in Iron Council is Remade with his head facing backwards and mentions looking after dangerous animals in his previous occupation.
- Cool Train: The Perpetual Train, later home of the titular council which was initially crawling along laying its own rails as the forefront of an expanding railway network - it has carriages containing everything needed to keep the community of workers building the lines alive and well fed, from an abattoir to a church. It later goes rogue, and the Council organise its rails to be taken up behind it as they are laid ahead of it, so it essentially becomes a giant, moving La Résistance town.
- Crapsack World: Which gets steadily more and more so as the novel progresses.
- Dungeon Punk (Magic, referred to as "Thaumaturgy", is commonplace and used by practically every skilled profession)
- Eye of Newt: One of the characters is a Teshi monk from the order of the Hidden who can use an ability to discover secrets. To do so, however, the monk has to sacrifice one of his/her own memories or abilities each time he digs up new info.
- Faceless Goons: The Militia, who vaciliate between Elite and Regular Mooks, depending on the needs of the scene.
- Fantastic Nuke: The city-killer (aka Hecatomb) in Iron Council is beyond even colourbombs (another kind of fantastic nuke) for sheer alien annihilation. It ERASES CITIES. And casts ripples of destruction BACKWARDS IN TIME.
- Fantastic Racism
- Fantasy Counterpart Culture: New Crobuzon is heavily inspired from London.
- Fantasy Kitchen Sink
- Giant Spider: The Weaver makes another appearance in Iron Council in front of some surprised railway workers before the revolt.
- Golem: Judah Low is a master of Bas-Lag's magical discipline known as "golemcrafting", wherein magicians channel power into anything that isn't living. Most of the Golems created are fairly standard (blade, flesh, metal, clay, wood), However the main character of Iron Council creates increasingly more fantastic golems some of the more memorable ones being: poison, light, dark, and TIME.
- Helping Hands: Handlingers, who play a minor role in the civil war and the attempts to capture the party seeking the Iron Council.
- Homage: The underground golem-fighting community is a parody of Robot Wars.
- Horse of a Different Colour: The Rudewood's hotchi ride oversized chickens. They also use these oversized, highly aggressive roosters in gladitorial cockfights.
- Improvised Golems: Judah can make golems out of virtually anything, and there's a great deal of fun in guessing what crazy substance he'll make them out of next.
- Knight Templar Parent: It is way, way too easy to read both Judah and Ann-Hari as being this, to the whole of Iron Council. At least, until Judah spoils the Bolivian Army Ending in a big way...
- La Résistance: The Iron Council takes up that role in this book, although there are many smaller groups within the city of New Crobuzon itself, such as Toro's gang.
- The Magocracy: There are passing references to a nation called "The Witchocracy", but it's not explored in great detail.
- Meaningful Name: Judah Lo(e)w is the name of a folklore rabbi from Prague who created a golem to protect the Jewish ghettos.
- The Messiah: Subverted with Judah Low. Lampshaded by Ann-Hari just before she shoots him dead.
- Mundane Fantastic: To the point that Judah, a character who can create and control golems, disguised his craft as puppetry because golemetry is so commonplace that people will pay more money to see a puppeteer than a mage.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Spiral Jacobs.
- Oh My Gods: Human residents from New Crobuzon mostly all swear to the same deity, Jabber, using the stock phrases like "By Jabber..." and occasionally mixing in the lowercase "god" for flavor.
- Plant Aliens: The cactacae are cactus-people, though not alien.
- Pyrrhic Victory: It all goes to hell. Counting all the horrible betrayals, Senseless Sacrifices, and Face Heel Turns in the novel would take up more room than a spoiler tag could conceivably hold. Suffice it to say that by the end of the novel, the Iron Council does not technically lose in their Bolivian Army Ending... but they don't win either.
- Reality Is Out to Lunch: The Cacotopic Stain, an area of desert (well, it's desert now) which is completely consumed by a Torque storm, and Suroch where New Crobuzon dropped a "torque bomb" in a past war. The way they're described, they're part nuclear wasteland, part half-opened door to the abyss. It is testament to the effectiveness of the New Crobuzon militia that when the Iron Council originally revolts, they flee towards the Cacotopic Stain.
- Samus Is a Girl: Toro in Iron Council. Also, the Mayor, in the same book.
- Schizo-Tech: The novels are set in a world that is roughly late-Victorian in technological terms with steam power being the driving force of industry and neon lights and phonographs being recent inventions, but also has robots and a long-defunct weather control machine. Justified in-universe, in that it's implied that the world was more advanced centuries ago, and in fact many "new" inventions are merely rediscovered.
- Secret Police: The Militia of New Crobuzon used to be Secret Police, but have abandoned the idea and have started ruling the city more openly.
- Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids: Judah, although he still has plenty of idealism that gets him into trouble.
- Touched by Vorlons: Judah Low learns how golem magic works by studying a race of creatures born with this ability, but is only able to use it himself after being touched by the Stiltspear chief.
- We ARE Struggling Together!: Runagate Rampart and the other subversive groups present by the point of Iron Council.
- The Worm That Walks: A throng-bear, an unintelligent bear made out of butterflies.
- Wretched Hive: New Crobuzon blows almost everything else out of water in terms of sheer ugliness. It's ruled by vicious capitalists who ignore crime against ordinary citizens, but send death squads to deal with dissenters, essentially ensuring that the city stays a brutal lawless mess forever. Criminals, even ones guilty of small-time theft, are punished by mutilating their bodies in horrible and ironic (in reference to the crime) ways. No wonder the people want to revolt.