- Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Gr
- Date: Oct 2014
From the book
It is only ten miles beyond the city that the river loses its momentum, drooling into the brackish estuary that feeds Iron Bay.
The boats that make the eastward journey out of New Crobuzon enter a lower landscape. To the south there are huts and rotten little jetties, from where rural laborers fish to supplement monotonous diets. Their children wave at travelers, warily. Occasionally there is a knoll of rock or a small copse of darkwood trees, places that defy cultivation, but mostly the land is clear of stones.
From the decks, sailors can see over the fringe of hedgerow and trees and bramble to a tract of fields. This is the stubby end of the Grain Spiral, the long curl of farmland that feeds the city. Men and women can be seen among the crops, or plowing the black earth, or burning the stubble--depending on the season. Barges putter weirdly between fields, on canals hidden by banks of earth and vegetation. They go endlessly between the metropolis and the estates. They bring chymicals and fuel, stone and cement and luxuries to the country. They return to the city past acres of cultivation studded with hamlets, great houses, and mills, with sack upon sack of grain and meat.
The transport never stops. New Crobuzon is insatiable.
The north bank of the Gross Tar is wilder.
It is a long expanse of scrub and marsh. It stretches out for more than eighty miles, till the foothills and low mountains that creep at it from the west cover it completely. Ringed by the river, the mountains, and the sea, the rocky scrubland is an empty place. If there are inhabitants other than the birds, they stay out of sight.
Bellis Coldwine took her passage on an east-bound boat in the last quarter of the year, at a time of constant rain. The fields she saw were cold mud. The half-bare trees dripped. Their silhouettes looked wetly inked onto the clouds.
Later, when she thought back to that miserable time, Bellis was shaken by the detail of her memories. She could recall the formation of a flock of geese that passed over the boat, barking; the stench of sap and earth; the slate shade of the sky. She remembered searching the hedgerow with her eyes but seeing no one. Only threads of woodsmoke in the soaking air, and squat houses shuttered against weather.
The subdued movement of greenery in the wind.
She had stood on the deck enveloped in her shawl and watched and listened for children's games or anglers, or for someone tending one of the battered kitchen gardens she saw. But she heard only feral birds. The only human forms she saw were scarecrows, their rudimentary features impassive.
It had not been a long journey, but the memory of it filled her like infection. She had felt tethered by time to the city behind her, so that the minutes stretched out taut as she moved away, and slowed the farther she got, dragging out her little voyage.
And then they had snapped, and she had found herself catapulted here, now, alone and away from home.
Much later, when she was miles from everything she knew, Bellis would wake, astonished that it was not the city itself, her home for more than forty years, that she dreamed of. It was that little stretch of river, that weatherbeaten corridor of country that had surrounded her for less than half a day.
In a quiet stretch of water, a few hundred feet from the rocky shore of Iron Bay, three decrepit ships were moored. Their anchors were rooted deep in silt. The chains that attached them were scabbed with years of barnacles.
They were unseaworthy, smeared bitumen-black, with big wooden structures built precariously at the stern and bow. Their masts were stumps. Their chimneys were...