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.

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