Un Lun Dun by China Miéville

4 out of 5 stars

There were supposed to be loads of foxes around, but you had to have really sharp eyes to see them. This one was standing watching the girls as they walked towards it. It didn’t seem in any hurry to move and seemed in fact it seemed to be watching them, or at least watching one of their group, in particular, Zanna. Strange things had been happening to her for a month, graffiti on walls, being handed an unmarked envelope with a travel card in the name of Zanna Moon Swazzy and there was the time that three squirrels left a nut each as an offering. It came to a head when her father was driving as was distracted by thick smoke or smog and hits someone.

One night they are disturbed by something, it is an umbrella that seems to be moving outside their window, they get dressed and follow it to a room with pipes in . Zanna turns the wheel and the sounds of the street fade away. They have left London as they know it and have entered the twin abcity of Un Lun Dun.

It is here that Zanna finds that she is Swazzy, or the chosen one, and is taken to the ‘Propheseers’ who are located on the magic bridge, the ‘Pons Absconditus’ that can move anywhere in the city and even between this city and the London we are more used to. She and Deeba learn that the city is under attack from the smog, and a man called Brokenbroll is fighting back against it by requiting umbrellas. They also meet Benjamin Unstible who has also crossed over from London. He tells them he has defeated it in London by using the ‘Klinneract’. However, there are people there who don’t want Swazzy in Un Lun Dun and attack her. She is forced to return to London to recover.

Deeba doesn’t believe that those left will be able to fight this smog and does some research while back in London. The results shock her and she knows that the city is in real trouble. She has to try and pass again between the worlds to try to save the city…

Well, that was a romp. China Miéville’s imagination knows no bounds really. I like the way that he takes the things that people are familiar with in London, Westminster Abbey, for example, and turns then round to the unexpected. A particular favourite of mine was the Binja’s, dustbins that have arm and legs and nunchucks to attack the enemy with. Some of the creatures that he has dreamt up (and that are brilliantly drawn throughout the book) are as fantastical as they are horrifying.

I didn’t think it was that strong plot-wise, I always can tell how these books are going to end, as there are very few authors who would want to eliminate their protagonists. It is just the route to that end that has the opportunity to startle and shock.

It is not dark per se, rather there are dark streaks running through the plot and the characters. It is also about nepotism and corruption that is endemic in the corridors of power regardless of the society that you are in. There is a touch of the emperor’s new clothes too, as some of the characters who should know better are taken in by the bad guys. Deeba was a great character, strong-willed and able to see through to what she knew was the right thing to do. It feels like a halfway house between the London that I know and the London below created by Gaiman in Neverwhere. That is much darker and more sinister than Un Lun Dun but has a similar vibe running through the creation of Miéville. Great stuff.

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  1. Liz Dexter

    I think my husband has read this – he has certainly read a few bits of Mieville. I like the idea of parallel Londons yet have failed to read any of the novels that use this conceit!

    • Paul

      Neverwhere is my favourite of those types of books so far.

      • Liz Dexter

        He rates the Rivers of London series tho I think those are an alternate London rather than two Londons at the same time.

        • Paul

          The Rivers of London series is really good too. More of a regular London with magic elements

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