Un Lun Dun, by China Miéville

I confess: I didn’t expect to like China Miéville’s Un Lun Dun. Preconceived dislike is a terrible thing for a book reviewer to admit, but there’s no denying it. I opened Miéville's book hoping to give it a fair shake, but A) I’m still recovering from reading certain scenes in Perdito Street Station, B) the cover art was too C-grade Dave McKean for my taste, and C) my review copy came with four pages of glowing critical accolades, plus a reverential introductory letter from Miéville’s editor. Ballantine is understandably proud of this up-and-coming fantasy writer’s work, but seriously—four pages seems like they’re overcompensating for something.

So when I say that I thoroughly enjoyed this book, despite my many biases, I hope that gives a sense of how remarkably entertaining it is. It isn’t an instant classic, but it’s smart, engaging, compelling fantasy, derivative of Neil Gaiman and Lewis Carroll.

Miéville’s heroines are a pair of London teenagers named Zanna and Deeba, who are increasingly freaked by the weird things—and people—that keep turning up around Zanna. Things get really out of hand when they find themselves transported to UnLondon, a surreal, funhouse version of London populated by ghosts, warlike garbage cans, and animated milk cartons. The people of UnLondon hail Zanna as their deliverer, citing a prophecy that describes her as the person who will defeat the Smog, a sentient chemical cloud that menaces the city. Nothing goes quite as planned, however, and Zanna, Deeba, and the UnLondoners soon discover how dangerous it can be to rely on fate.

Un Lun Dun features some overly precious ideas that Miéville clearly couldn’t let go of (the killer giraffes were particularly ridiculous) and his heroines occasionally stray into Mary Sue territory, but there’s a flash of genuine wit for every misstep. There were loads of amusing puns and word plays—if you can see the value of a weapon called the “Klinneract” against the Smog, then you’re probably a lot better at deciphering vanity license plates than I am. I loved the fierce garbage cans (half ninja, half trash bin, they’re... binja!), the animated words, and the assortment of villains, which range from the Smog to a Mafioso-type that rules over UnLondon’s massive broken umbrella population.

While Miéville’s earlier sci-fi/fantasy novels offer ample proof of his writing skills and remarkable imagination, they consistently come across as creepy, self-consciously edgy, and deeply impressed by their own cleverness. Un Lun Dun has its flaws, but I sincerely hope that Miéville writes a sequel—this is one world that I’d happily spend more time in.
Posted by: Julia, Last edit by: Julianka


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