Book Review: Un Lun Dun by China Miéville

This is the second novel and the third piece of work of China Miéville’s that I have read. The other works I have already read are Tis the Season and Perdido Street Station. Both were very different and when looking at the blurb, I expected this to be far more like the former than the latter with a dose of Gaiman’s Neverwhere thrown in. I wasn’t wrong.

This is the story of Susannah – or Zanna to her friends – who notices that something distinctly odd is going on around her. Wild animals stop to watch her and mysterious graffiti calling her out as a saviour appears all over the part of London that she lives in. Following a nasty car accident very early on, some smoke tries to “abduct” her (for want of a better word), and later after hearing a strange noise outside they follow a track to an underground basement where there is a set of pipes with a wheel. Turning it, the friends find that they are not in London any more. At least, not the London that they know.

What they find is the single most weirdest, most abstract urban fantasy setting. Not even Doctor Seuss fusing Neverwhere with Teletubbies could possibly come close to this. That’s what it feels like though, sort of. A ring doughnut shaped sun, water that is a mixture of strange colours, people who make clothes from newspaper… if you can think of something weird then it will be here. You’re not in Kansas any more, and you’re most certainly not at Hogwarts or in Narnia either. Yet there is a method to this eclectic madness and it makes perfect sense when the explanation comes. As for the plot, once we get through the extensive and necessary world-building and scene-setting, it’s identifiable as YA fiction in many ways but with something uniquely Miéville too. The signature Weird-Fi is there and if you like your YA to be a shade disturbing (but age appropriate I hasten to add), then you’ll find fewer better examples than this.

As you would expect from Young Adult Fiction, this is written in a simple and engaging tone. This surprised me from Miéville whose work is often weird, densely written, complexly plotted and with strong political overtures – I struggled through Perdido Street Station and felt I appreciated rather than enjoyed it. This is an exception though, it is perfectly aimed at the right age audience. This is urban fantasy for the younger generation, the hook, and maybe trying to pick up those lost for something to read since Harry Potter. Not, I hasten to add, that he is jumping on Rowling’s bandwagon!

The drawback? It was too long. You take a big risk writing a YA book that’s nearly 600 pages unless the series is already established – that was why and how J.K. Rowling got away with it. Order of the Phoenix was the fifth book in a series that had just become very gripping. This is a standalone book and should probably have been split into two parts.

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