Iron Council is Miéville’s third novel set in the world of Bas-Lag, where thaumaturgy (magic) works along with steampunk technology and humans live alongside other sentient species.
Two decades ago, the city-state of New Crobuzon started building a railroad across an enormous desert. The workers are humans, cactacae (cactus people), and Remade (criminals grotesquely modified by thaumaturgy, with animal or mechanical parts grafted on). Eventually, they rebel against the heavy-handed overseers, and flee far into the badlands. Known as the Iron Council, their legend lives on in New Crobuzon.
By now, New Crobuzon is at war with the distant state of Tesh, but also wants to punish the Iron Council. Judah Low, a golemetrist who was part of the Iron Council, sets out from New Crobuzon to warn the Council. He is followed by his occasional lover, Cutter. Back in the city, Ori is a young radical fed up with endless talk who joins a revolutionary group that assassinates the city’s ruler.
Miéville writes a very different kind of fantasy from the Tolkien-derived swords-and-sorcery that constitutes so much of the genre. His is a grim world where oppressive oligarchies use militias and sadistic thaumaturges to keep the masses under control. They live in Dickensian squalor in a city that sounds a little like London, with locations such as Dog Fenn, Kelltree, Brock Marsh, Sobex Croix, Petty Coil, Griss Twist, and Lich Sitting Station. Miéville is a Marxist and it shows. His writing is also marvelously evocative.