Miéville - Book Reviews

***** - Excellent
**** - Good
*** - Okay
** - Bad
* - Terrible
+ - Half-star

Un Lun Dun
China Miéville
Del Rey
Fiction, YA Fantasy

DESCRIPTION: For as long as Deeba has known her, there's been something special about her best friend Suzanna, better known as Zanna. Tall, blonde, and pretty, the 12- year-old has a certain inexplicable charm and magnetism... and it isn't just her school friends who feel it. Lately, some very odd things have been happening. Graffiti bearing her name turns up in odd places. Strangers greet her like a heroine. Even animals offer respects when she passes them. When Zanna follows a strange instinct, she and Deeba are sucked into UnLondon, the "abcity" mirror of everyday London. Here, people are as likely to have transparent skin or birdcage heads as they are to be truly "human." Packs of rogue rubbish stalk the streets, though they aren't nearly so dangerous as the bodysnatching ghosts of Wraithtown or the terrifying carnivorous giraffes. Cast-off and broken things from London seep through to become living things (like the flocks of broken "unbrellas"), or self-sprouting houses made of such refuse as old washing machines or record players. Wandering in a daze, Zanna and Deeba find themselves befriended by some peculiar characters, who tell them their arrival has been anticipated for years. The surreal city and its bizarre inhabitants face a grave danger in the form of Smog, a sapient cloud of noxious pollution. According to the Propheseers, a Chosen One known as the Schwazzy shall appear to complete a dangerous quest and destroy the Smog: none other then Zanna. But the prophecy of her trials and triumphs goes wrong almost from the start, leaving UnLondon without a champion in its darkest hour... unless someone else can help. But who can hope to succeed where the Schwazzy herself has failed?

REVIEW: The cover hype calls Un Lun Dun a "hybrid of Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz and The Phantom Tollbooth." I'd call it a hybrid of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, Mirrormask, and maybe a Hieronymus Bosch painting: dark, twisted, and beyond surreal. So strong was the Gaiman influence that I wasn't at all surprised to read in the Afterword that Neil Gaiman and the author were friends. Moving past the exceptionally bizarre settings and characters, the story felt overlong, especially the first half. It starts out as another one of those young adult fantasies where kids from our world go to a mystic land where perfect strangers somehow seem to become loyal friends within a minute of meeting them. Escorted by these friends, they see more obligatory bizarre wonders and dangers until they meet with the Very Important People who either send them home or explain why they were brought to the land to begin with. Round about that time, I was pushing myself to keep reading; Miéville chops up his chapters in a way that makes it tedious to keep going, and his illustrations (some of which constitute spoilers) get in the way as often as they add color to the narrative. Once the girls have met with the Propheseers and learn of the fate of the Chosen One, things started to get a little more interesting... especially when the whole "Child of Prophecy" chestnut gets a sound thwack on the head, followed by a tweak of the ear and a boot out the door. From that point on, I enjoyed the tale more, though I still found myself struggling to push ahead now and again, and a few of his surreal twists and contrivances came across as just plain silly. The ending was fairly good, at least. All in all, while MiĆ©ville crafts some memorable images and a few nice characters, I found the whole book just too surreal, not to mention at least a third too long.

You might also enjoy:
Demons Don't Dream (Piers Anthony, Fiction - A computer game pulls two players into the magical, pun-filled land of Xanth)
The Everworld series (K. A. Applegate, YA Fiction - Four Chicago teens are pulled into a world where magic and elder gods still reign supreme)
Abarat (Clive Barker, YA Fiction - A Minnesotan girl travels to the bizarre archipelago of the Abarat)
The Wizard of Oz (L. Frank Baum, YA Fiction - A tornado whisks a Kansas girl into a magical land)
A Hollow World: Down the Rabbit Hole (R. G. Beckwith, Fiction - A young scientist, fresh out of college, joins a government team investigating a mysterious hole in Greenland)
Faerie Wars (Herbie Brennan, YA Fiction - When a boy finds a faerie prince in the garden, he is pulled into a brewing interdimensional conflict)
The Best of Lewis Carroll (Lewis Carroll, YA Fiction - Includes the classics "Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass," chronicling a girl's surreal journeys through strange places)
Gregor the Overlander (Suzanne Collins, YA Fiction - A modern boy and his toddler sister fall into a dark, strange world beneath New York City)
The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles (Julie Andrews Edwards, YA Fiction - A professor and three children seek the world of the fanciful Whangdoodle, which can only be found through the power of imagination)
The Stoneheart trilogy (Charlie Fletcher, YA Fiction - An act of vandalism plunges a London boy into the unseen war between the city's statues and gargoyles)
Coraline (Neil Gaiman, YA Fiction - A girl finds a doorway to a mirror version of her flat, where a dark entity awaits her arrival)
Neverwhere (Neil Gaiman, Fiction - Helping a wounded homeless girl pulls an ordinary man into the bizarre, invisible realm of LondonBelow)
Doon (Laurie Langdon and Carey Corp, YA Fiction - Two American teen girls find their way to the mystical Scottish kingdom of Doon)
The Two Princesses of Bamarre (Gail Carson Levine, YA Fiction - When her brave older sister falls deathly ill, a fearful princess must set forth on a dangerous quest to find a cure)
Eccentric Circles (Rebecca Lickiss, Fiction - A woman discovers a doorway to a fairy world through the back door of her inherited cottage)
Every Heart a Doorway (Seanan McGuire, YA? Fiction - A teen attends a special boarding school to deal with the psycholgical aftermath of having been to a magical world)
The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica (James A. Owen, YA Fiction - Three London men, soon to be famous authors, cross over into the Archipelago of Dreams, inspiration of myth and story since prehistoric times)
The Curious World of Shelley Vendor (Colin R. Parsons, YA Fiction - A clumsy girl follows alien book-thieves into a dangerous world)
The Keeper and the Rune Stone (Paige W. Pendleton, YA Fiction - Four children become "awakened" to the presence of magical beings)
Broken: A Mystical Trip Through Oz (Jim Scarborough, YA Fiction - Dorothy returns to Oz, only to find the Wicked Witch of the East alive and well and bent on revenge)
The Imaginality of Somewhere (Someone, YA Fiction - Twins discover a portal to a magical world)
The Dragon Box (Katie W. Stewart, YA Fiction - A game pulls a boy into an imperiled magical land)
The Rhyme of the Willow series (Justin Sullivan and Samuel Sullivan, YA Fiction - Following a vivid dream, twins find themselves pulled into a dark world where plants run amok)
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Catherynne M. Valente, YA Fiction - An Omaha girl travels to Fairyland for an Aventure, and finds herself fighting an evil Marquess)
The War of the Flowers (Tad Williams, Fiction - A man crosses into the faerie realm, where a war is brewing that may destroy Earth)
The Birthright series (Joshua Williamson and Andrei Bressan, YA Graphic Novel - A young boy disappears, only to return a year later having grown up in a fantasy world, corrupted by the forces he was supposed to destroy)
The 100 Cupboards trilogy (N. D. Wilson, YA Fiction - A boy discovers magical cupboard doors to other worlds, and unwittingly unleashes a terrible danger)

Return to Top of Page - Return to Book Review List

Return to Brightdreamer Books Home

Brightdreamer Books is created and maintained by TBW, a.k.a. "Brightdreamer."
E-mail: tbweber AT comcast DOT net. Remove spaces, replace AT with "@" and DOT with "." - please put "Brightdreamer Books" in the subject line, or your e-mail may be deleted as spam! Thank you!