I finished reading China Mieville's book Perdido Street Station a few days ago. It is certianly one of the most interesting, original and captivating books I have read in a long time.
The first thing that grabs you (well, me) is the language. It's pertty rare to find such rich language in a genre book. The chapter introductions written from the perspective of one of the characters is so full of nuanuce and beatiful imagery that I've already re-read these sections a number of times.
Once past the language, you can explore the city of New Crobuzon. The imagery and atmosphere of this city is made alive by Mieville. I was reminded of The City of Lost Children, but more corrupt, cruel and mysterious. The sheer amount of wonder and cruelty he fits into this book is a marvel in itself. The casual glossing over of the city's horrors - specially the horrific "Remade", and the frequently mentioned but never explored "Torture Factories" make them even more evocative and powerful.
Apart from the setting, the inhabitants of the city are another wonder. From sentient Cactii and frog-like amphibians to politicians who make literal deals with the devil (or the devil's ambassador, to be precise) to mad scientists and human-insect hybrids.
To call this book steampunk would be to call Stephenson's Snow Crash cyberpunk. They are both so much more than the limitations of such a classification.
The only negative reaction I have to this book is the main villain of the piece. No matter how exotic and unusual the creation, a mindless beast is no replacement for a thinking, scheming villain. But perhaps that was part of Mieville's plan - to create a "villain" that is simply acting out it's evolutionary habbits, with the real villains, scheming in the background
No matter what way I look at it, Perdido Street Station is one of the best books I have read in a long, long time. I can't wait to get my hands on the next book The Scar.