Friday, January 6, 2012

Book Review: Un Lun Dun by China Mieville


This is China Mieville's first young adult (YA) book. I dislike the classification of books as 'YA' as it seems to me that the only reason is due to the age of the primary character. Regardless, the reason I read this is in preparation for Mieville's new book Railsea, which everyone claims will be YA as well despite the scarcity of information. Railsea and Un Lun Dun have nothing to do with each other, but I wanted to see how Mieville manages YA.

Overall Impression:
China Mieville again writes an excellent tale with a masterful control of language. However, unlike his other books, these one feels more directed. His other works tend to meander a bit, exploring the world (which is cool), but this one gets straight to the point. In a sense, this works quite well.

I was worried his language would be watered down because it's YA and in a way it is (no febrile or puissant here), but there are still many clever creations. Some of the best new words, in my opinion, include binja, smombies, ɹɐɔ, and my favorite: arachnofenestranauts. These are exactly what they sound like.

Plot:
Fast paced action with some very interesting twists on the whole 'quest fanatasy' trope. The chapters are short so it makes for a very quick read, in fact, there is one chapter whose title (The Powerful Resurgence of the Everyday) is longer than the text (Of course she was wrong.).

Without spoiling too much: this is the story of a city Unlike London: UnLondon. It is being attacked by the evil, sentient Smog, but prophecy says a Chosen one will come from London, go on a quest, and save them. In a clever twist, however, Mieville has the sidekick (the UnChosen one, if you will) actually be the hero. She's smart enough to realize the quest is bogus, skips around the prophecy, and manages to save the day. So much for quests and prophecies...

Character:
A binja of Un Lun Dun
Mieville has created some cool and very unusual characters here. The most ordinary ones are the two London girls who visit UnLondon- Zanna and Deeba. The others are UnLondoners of all shapes and sizes ranging from spoken words, half-ghosts, animated rubbish, and monsters of all kinds. One thing I wasn't expecting is that the book is illustrated by China Mieville himself. We get to see how some of the characters and most of the monsters look like (though see below for some fan art). Most of the monsters are neat, but I was terrified at the illustration (and description) of the giraffes. Just like the Londoners I was all like: "Giraffes? Ha! They don't scare me" and then after seeing them: "RUN!!"

The story revolves around Deeba and it's her we get to know best. She starts of very reluctant, wanting to go home right when they arrive, but soon she's the one leading the game and promising she'll be back. She's the most 'normal' character we see, the others are all UnLondoners (though Jones is originally from London) and each one is unique and special.

Setting / World Building:
Every single Mieville book I've read centers on a city. The city in fact, is so very present it can almost be considered a character in itself. I've seen London, UnLondon, New Crobuzon, Embassytown, Besźel/Ul Qoma, and Armada. All of them are very different from one another, but also very well characterized. I have never been to London, so I can't tell how similar it is to UnLondon, though I'm certain the 'Sun' (or more accurately UnSun) is not a disk with a hole in it, the buildings aren't made of MOIL technology (Mildly Obsolete In London), nor is there a bridge whose ends lie literately anywhere and everywhere.

This book, in particular, is not as dark or heavy as some of his other works. The one thing that stands out is the environmental aspect (they are fighting Smog, after all), but I'm not troubled by that.

Final Thoughts:
I like this book. It's classic Mieville, without being gruesome or dark (like Perdido Street Station or Kraken) and with milder monsters. It also has a very nice, definite, happy ending. I still consider Embassytown, The Scar, and The City & The City as my favorites, but this was a good read.

As a bonus, click here for some fan art by IniquitousFish. These are the main characters of Un Lun Dun. It almost looks like you could find these characters in a Professor Layton game or as part of some anime! I especially like the re-interpretation of the utterling Cauldron.


Next up is returning to epic fantasy with my long overdue re-read of The Wheel of Time. Coming up is Book 8, The Path of Daggers by Robert Jordan.
It might take a while since I'll be traveling and attending a conference, so the next few posts may be more Astronomy related.

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