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Bellis Coldwine is the main protagonist of The Scar. Due to her connection to Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, she flees New Crobuzon when the New Crobuzon Militia begin rounding up Grimnebulin's former contacts. Her ship to Nova Esperium was taken by Armadan pirates, and she was press-ganged into becoming a citizen of the sailing city.

A talented linguist, she was instrumental in the translation of the information which allowed The Lovers of Armada to eventually raise and harness the Avanc. She joins the expedition to the island of the Anophelii, schemes in secret with Silas Fennec, and finds herself at the center of many of the most dramatic events surrounding the Avanc project and the search for the Scar.


Bellis is a woman of early middle age, born in the New Crobuzon neighborhood of Chnum and likely from one of the city's merchant families. Educated and an accomplished linguist in her own right (published under the monogram 'B. Coldwine'), Bellis is trained in the "language-trance" to aid in her translation work, and is one of only a handful of High Kettai speakers in all of Bas-Lag. She dresses in well-cut clothes almost entirely of black, has dark hair, and habitually makes her mouth and eyes up with dark blue/black cosmetics.

Her manner defaults to a chilly reserve, keeping her thoughts carefully hidden while her internal monologue seems to be quite active, and is given to quick and sometimes harsh value judgments. Despite his other redeeming qualities, she regards Johannes Tearfly as "a coward, although his cowardice was perhaps merely social." As Shekel observes to Tanner Sack, "cold ain't the fucking word [for her], though," and this does at first appear to be the case. Her sexual encounters with Silas Fennec are calculated, matter-of-fact, prompted by her own restlessness and Fennec's need to build rapport with one of his informants. Once satisfied, neither initiates any closer contact.

Bellis is no one's first choice of hero, least of all hers. Even so, a brittle determination makes her crucial to the events of The Scar. Ironically for a linguist, she seems to have huge difficulty articulating herself when it counts. Any other time, she is sharp-tongued, unconsciously self-important, prone to glares and stony silences, and incurably desperate to return to a city actively hunting for her; Bellis is a difficult person to know. During her entire press-ganging, she succeeds in making only a small handful of meaningful connections aboard Armada, among them fellow librarian Carrianne, and Johannes. She admits that she is "not constructed that way," and even when her own mother died, Bellis did not even hang onto one "mawkish" keepsake. Whatever else she claims, Bellis is genuinely shattered by the sudden death of Shekel in the Grindylow attack on Armada; she came to care for him in the time she spent teaching him to read.

For all her outwardly unlikeable qualities, Bellis is little more than a regular person, and her core hypocrisies do not keep her from being emotionally devastated by the manipulations and bloodshed aboard Armada. Her unresolved class friction and preconceptions make her vulnerable to the first, and she is helpless when faced with the second. She plays a key spying role not only for Fennec, but Uther Doul as well. She is Doul's spy most of all, in fact, led on by a long and intricate game of misdirection.

Initially uncomfortable with her own feelings about Remade, she does concede that those feelings are meaningless when Armada presents a second chance at life for them, as the alternative would be a short, brutal life of slavery. Bellis believes herself to be incompatible with the culture and values of Armada, but is ultimately open to reasoned argument once she can look past her own fears. It is Bellis who tries to negotiate with the Grindylow for the city's survival, not knowing she is ill-equipped to do so.

Following her flogging for playing courier to Fennec's fateful parcel, Bellis undergoes a stark physical change. Her hair turns a stark bone-white from the shock of the lash, face permanently etched with premature age, her back criss-crossed with ugly whip marks, and her voice reduced to a tragic, halting croak.

Events of The Scar[]

The story joins Bellis in Iron Bay, aboard the ship Terpsichoria as she prepares to leave for Nova Esperium; we learn much of what happens through a growing letter written by Bellis to an unknown addressee. Her past association with rogue researcher Issac Dan der Grimnebulin has forced her to distance herself from her remaining friends and associates, and flee to the remote colony for a contracted term of five years. This plan falls apart in stages: first as a Cray translator for Captain Myzovic, then with Silas Fennec's commandeering of the Terpsichoria in Salkrikaltor City, and finally, the taking of the ship by Uther Doul and his pirates. Press-ganged for life, she is screened by Armada intake officers and assigned a work posting at Grand Gears Library.

Dead set against the idea of remaining in the pirate city for the rest of her life, Bellis becomes embroiled in the machinations of Fennec following a fraught conversation with the newly-elevated Johannes. Her disgust at his easy acceptance of their situation, and the fact that his research contributed to their abduction, drives her to find a way out by any means she can think of. With nothing much to go on, she attends a glad' circus day of fights with Fennec to gather information on her rulers and fellow citizens. Gradually, Bellis comes to learn of why Fennec found himself out in Salkrikaltor waters, and what drove him back from where he'd been - namely, the Cold Claw Sea, among the Gengris. Taking this as preposterous at first, Fennec shares more details, chief among them why he left: his discovery of a Grindylow invasion plan of New Crobuzon via a network of rivers through the Rohagi continent. Even the skeptical Bellis soon finds herself won over by the sheer thoroughness of Fennec's notes, although she can't decipher his brand of coded message.

This revelation terrifies Bellis, all the more once she comes into possession of a book by Krüach Aum, an author mentioned in a watch-list supplied by The Lovers as they pursue their plan. This plan, Bellis comes to realize, is one of massive scale - the Lovers intend to raise a mythical creature called the Avanc. Bellis damages Aum's text enough to delay the project, but it becomes clear that Aum is a still-living Anophelii rather than a long-dead scholar from Gnurr Ket. Bellis then reveals the book to Johannes, using him to propose an expedition to the quarantined island of the mosquito-people, with Bellis attached as High Kettai translator. This, she and Fennec have worked out, is their best and only chance to pass along something that might reach Fennec's masters in New Crobuzon. When put before the Garwater council, the voyage is approved, and the female Lover issues orders to make ready aboard the airship Trident.

During the airship voyage, Bellis finds herself the occasional conversation partner of Uther Doul, along for the ride for the Lover's security. These "chats" are more like recitations, though, since Bellis rarely does more than listen to Doul speak about things like High Cromlech, and the origin of the Lovers. Once Armadans land on Machine Beach, there is tension between them and the cactacae captain of a Dreer Samher navy vessel, but Bellis watches Doul stun and overpower the seasoned sailor in single combat, then negotiate a truce. During the week spent on the island, speaking to Aum and conducting research, Bellis hardly has time to plan how she will get a package to the Samheri ship -- loaded with credible intelligence, but also, secretly containing a lodestone that will give the NC Navy a means to track Armada. Stowed inside by Fennec without her knowledge, it is still Bellis who enlists the reluctant help of Tanner Sack to swim the parcel to the Samheri, rather than risk a mile of open beach while she-anophelii swarm for blood.

Once the away team returns to Armada, now with Aum and fresh findings in tow, Bellis is assigned to be Aum's translator until he can learn to speak Salt. During this period, leaflets by Silas Fennec begin to circulate, sowing doubt about the Lovers intentions. While Bellis continues to gather information and collude with Fennec, intending to reveal the secret of the Avanc, they are caught up short by the Lovers revealing the fact themselves. In the process, they also take control of the narrative and gain the favor of the Armadans. This frustrates Bellis, who continues her cagey relationship with Doul as a means to an uncertain end. He tells her about his Possible Sword, the power required to wield it, and the arrival of the Ghosthead, cluing her in about their eventual destination - The Scar, where the Ghosthead made landfall in Bas-Lag and ruptured it.

Bellis watches in horror and awe at the final ritual to summon the Avanc, once the preparations are finally completed; she is present with Doul on the deck as the city's thaumaturges summon Fulmen (storm elementals) to bait the Avanc into Bas-Lag's dimensional waters. Once the waters have calmed, the city finally bridles the Avanc, and Bellis has it dawn on her at last: the Lovers will use the Avanc to reach the Scar, and breach through it with the entire city along for the ride.

Bellis' growing horror and dread find little to dispel them when she voices her concerns, and other Armadans like Carrianne are even excited about what might happen. This feeling changes abruptly with the arrival of a New Crobuzon war fleet, and Bellis can only watch, aghast, as the terrible events of the one-day war unfold thanks to the parcel she couriered. Armada seizes a costly victory, but the city and its people are shattered and traumatized. Even one of the library ships Bellis works on has been struck, scattering thousands of books into the sea.

Days after Armada has started to pull itself back together, Tanner Sack appears at Bellis' door with a pistol, coming close to killing her in a cold fury over their shared role in the attack. The truth is plain to both of them: there was never a Grindylow attack planned, and Fennec used Bellis like an eager pawn. She manages to keep her from shooting her only because she convinces him just how badly Fennec played her, just as he played the rest of his informants. Sure that he will still shoot her if she says anything else, Bellis tells him that they have to come clean to the ruling council of Armada.

Bellis and Tanner give their confession to Doul, who brings the information to the ruling council to give their sentence. He returns to Bellis in her cell, notifying her of Fennec's capture on the Wordhoard, and gives her and Tanner a choice between a flogging, or ten years imprisonment, and both take the flogging. The punishment exacts a serious physical toll on Bellis, while Tanner seems to gradually come back to something like his old self, although carrying a lasting hatred of Bellis.

The Avanc turns, now under the control of Armada's thaumaturges, and the Lovers enact the next phase of their plan as the city journeys to the Scar. All the wretched and broken Bellis can think to do is wander the decks, or spend occasional nights listening to the Lovers together in their quarters. She does this from a hidden spot on the deck below, one which Uther Doul himself once showed her to listen to the Lovers engaged in their twisted version of intimacy, in order to "understand them." Bellis learns nothing from these further nights listening, but takes a meager scrap of comfort in doing something that her rulers know nothing about. With no contact from Fennec, and her remaining contacts still dealing with the aftermath of the war, there is little to do but allow the Avanc to take its course. However, Bellis is one of a growing number of people aboard who are less than agreeable about the Lovers' plan, since they have not told the people of Armada where they are going.

Just when Bellis thinks there might be a change in her fortunes, the Lovers once again prove their political skill by revealing the secret - yes, they are headed to the Scar, and it could mean a genuinely new era of power for Armada. The female Lover radiates fervor, and the population is largely won over by the sense of contagious excitement. Carrianne and others remain excited by the prospect, regardless of what dissenting figures like the Brucolac think.

As the city moves into the waters of the Hidden Ocean, Bellis and others around Armada witness a number of strange phenomena resulting from the Scar's emanations; the trusty cactacae aeronaut Hedrigall and his aerostat vanish, and many think he abandoned them. When the Avanc begins to sicken and slow down, Bellis is the last person to speak to Johannes before he is killed investigating the cause in a sub. This event sparks the second tragedy in recent history, as it marks the beginning of the Brucolac's attempted mutiny against Garwater. The brief civil war is waged between vampyr and the Garwater yeomanry, and Bellis sees a vicious battle between Doul and a group of vampyr unfold mere meters from her position.

In the chaos of the battle, Bellis overhears the Brucolac coordinating with unseen allies, and Bellis realizes that the Grindylow really have found Silas Fennec after all. Racing to Doul's quarters and breaking in, she grabs Fennec's stolen Magus Fin, and heads for the Grand Easterly's brig. There, she is met with the trio of hunter-siblings who have tracked Fennec all the way from the Cold Claws, and her attempt at making amends is met with scornful disinterest. This is because it was never a relic they were after, the lead hunter explains, but the accumulated notes Fennec took during his time embedded in the Gengris, in his role as a New Crobuzon agent. Bellis understands at last that Silas represents the threat, not the Grindylow, and his "feasibility study" would only lead to a slow invasion of the Gengris. With this, she stands aside as the hunters take Fennec, reducing his form hideously with thaumaturgy, and battens the cell door behind her as the Grindylow exit via the porthole.

In the days following the mutiny, with the Brucolac crucified in punishment, Bellis sees Tanner again at her door, this time giving her Shekel's notes from their lessons together. She is left to cope with her feelings over the dead boy and Johannes. Later, she contacts Doul and tells him what happened in the brig; he already knows it was her who broke in to take the Magus Fin, but shows no anger or even surprise. The Avanc continues to take Armada toward the Scar, now free of its Grindylow-inflicted malady, and in the increasingly bizarre days and nights, Bellis is sure she can hear Doul trying to play something on his possibly-broken Perhapsadian.

On the fifth morning in the Hidden Ocean, Bellis is among the group who sees the "return" of the missing Hedrigall, who appears severely disoriented and malnourished from his time aboard a makeshift raft. While the Lovers take him below deck to minimize his frantic claims that he watched all of Armada die, Bellis catches a silent signal from Doul to make her way to her secret listening spot - with, she realizes, a witness trusted among all Armadans. Finding Tanner at the head of an angry crowd, she leads him away, and together they listen to the harrowing account of Hedrigall's journey, confirming from his vivid descriptions of Armada's complete obliteration that this is a "nigh" Hedrigall. Just as Doul has spoken about, possibilities bleed out into the Empty Ocean from the Scar, and in this case, Bellis and Tanner are listening to a Hed from another possible Bas-Lag. Tanner seethes when the Lovers agree to cover the matter up, intending to keep Hedrigall detained and out of sight, and Bellis watches as he takes what he's learned to the populace of Armada.

Bellis watches from the crowd as the female Lover rages against Tanner, Hedrigall, the doubters, and at last, the male Lover himself. Their unity broken, the Lovers cannot hope to rule, and Bellis later watches the scarred woman leave alone in a boat, heading for the Scar. Following this, she is approached by Doul, letting her know that she will be allowed to leave Armada, in lieu of what she realizes to be "a wage, for services rendered." Finally in possession of enough facts to make a kind of conclusion, Bellis finds that she has been Doul's unwitting spy, still unsure of just how planned all of this was. She recollects all of this in the closing page of her letter, still headed "Dear," and decides that when Doul takes her back to New Crobuzon, she won't run anymore, and will deliver her letter by hand.

Characters in The Scar
Main characters

Bellis Coldwine · Brucolac · Tanner Sack · Uther Doul · Silas Fennec · Shekel · The Lovers · Johannes Tearfly

Minor characters

Carrianne · Myzovic · Cumbershum · Hedrigall · Krüach Aum · Meriope