Published by Del Rey
Book Web site: http://www.unlundun.com
China Miéville has been making a name for himself since his debut novel, King Rat, hit bookshelves in 1999. In the interim, his connected novels in the world of Bas-lag have won numerous awards, critical acclaim, and many fans. Where Perdido Street Station, The Scar, and Iron Council eschewed many “traditional” fantasy tropes, Miéville’s newest long-form effort is firmly entrenched in the traditions of a Young Adult novel. This being a China Miéville novel, the story, of course, leaves the trenches of those traditions, though it doesn’t completely leave them behind.
Un Lun Dun follows a plucky heroine through a fantastical London as she tries to end the threat of the dark overlord, a la prophecy. While the framing of the story might be familiar, the contents are inventive and as fantastical as any Miéville’s work. The novel feels much more like his debut, King Rat, than his Bas Lag novels, considering both books feature a dark underbelly of London. Both Un Lun Dun and King Rat also fit very nicely in with other “dark London” books, such as Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere as well as his wonderful children’s novel Coraline,
Strange things are happening to Young Zanna and Deeba in their seemingly hum-drum lives. People and animals are referring to Zanna as a barely pronounceable name – Shwazzy. Soon after they discover this term means Zanna is the “chosen,” they are pulled into an alternate version of their home, London, which is populated by buses with feet where tires should be present, roaming smog-monsters and the most inventive – pet milk cartons. Upon their arrival in UnLondon, a mix of the familiar and strange to frightening, the two friends discover the “Shwazzy/chosen” moniker Zanna was tagged with refers to her role as the prophesized savior of UnLondon, with Deeba as her sidekick.
Problems ensue early on as Zanna becomes incapacitated and cannot fulfill her preordained mission as the salvation of UnLondon. Deeba is pulled along for the ride in the hopes of saving her dear friend, though each turn seemingly makes this hope a less distinct possibility. Even more frustrated than Deeba are the characters who at first think Deeba is the savior and then soon realize she isn’t. While this is slight sidestep from the plucky heroine formula, it works enough to keep the story fresh and for once allows the sidekick character to take the spotlight.
The thing that makes this most refreshing, in terms of the typical child savoir story, is that Deeba is NOT chosen. She doesn’t have to fit into the role and can, more or less, think outside the box. She does get some help from a living book, which acts as a nice dose of comedic relief. This “outside the box” mentality of Deeba’s is reflective of the whole story, and indeed, much of Mieville’s writings.
There is something of an environmental message in the book too, in that the enemy is smog and fire, two outcomes of the industrial age. What is interesting is how the smog monster in UnLondon is connected to an event in our world. This bridges the world fantasy and reality nicely, while also providing something of a what if premise.
Like the best Young Adult novels, Un Lun Dun holds much appeal for its intended young audience and Adults. There is a smartness to the characters and dialogue the adults will enjoy and the younger set will appreciate should they return to the novel later in their life, as well they should. With Un Lun Dun Miéville boldly forges new literary ground for himself, which should gain him a whole new audience. If, as he hopes, to return to this underbelly of London, Miéville might make his strongest mark, both in these two genre/markets (YA & Fantasy/Science Fiction) and Literature. Miéville said in various interviews appearing online he has other stories to tell In this setting/world. Such a return would be most welcome.
© 2007 Rob H. Bedford
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