Robert Beveridge's Reviews > Un Lun Dun

Un Lun Dun by China Miéville
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Aug 19, 08

bookshelves: 2008-goal-list, cuy-co-pub-lib, finished, best-i-read-2008-edition
Read in August, 2008

China Mieville, Un Lun Dun (Ballantine, 2007)

I have written many times (more than I can count, certainly) about the dangers of message fiction. Chief among them is that the author gets so wrapped up in the message that he forgets he's first and foremost supposed to tell a story. When I realized that Un Lun Dun, China Mieville's first childrens' book, was of the “message fiction” stripe, I quailed in despair, thinking I might have encountered my first Mieville book (and I've read 'em all) I wasn't going to like. I should have known better.

Message-fiction writers, listen up: the vast majority of you have a lot to learn from China Mieville. This is how you tell a story. Not just a message story, but any story. (Which is the point, really.) Perfectly-created characters that are rich and deep, a strong plot in which to set them (with no end of surprises-- Mieville is also poking some fun at the traditional fantasy-novel setup here), a setting that manages to both be original and wear Mieville's debt to Clive Barker on its sleeve, and a message that, yes, still manages to poke its head through! Believe it or not, you can have all these things in one book! Don't believe me? Read this one.

Un Lun Dun is the story of Zanna, the Shwazzy (I'd explain that, but catching the many puns in this book before Mieville reveals them is a lot of the fun-- and he still nailed me with Klinneract), and her friend Deeba. The two of them live in a block of apartments in London. Strange things start happening to them-- animals trying to communicate with them in sign language, odd-shaped clouds, being followed by a broken umbrella. Then Zanna goes into a basement, turns a wheel, and everything changes. I wish I could tell you more. I want to tell you more. But I don't want to spoil anything, anything at all, about this book. You deserve all the surprises, and all the delights, awaiting you when you read it for yourself.

If you've encountered China Mieville before, you should know what to expect, except on a more YA level than you're used to. If you haven't experienced China Mieville before, hie thee to the library or the bookstore yesterday, if not before, and pick yourself up a copy of Perdido Street Station, one of the best books that's been published in the past decade in order to get acquainted. Though actually, I have to say, Un Lun Dun is the first book of his I've thought would also make an excellent entry point into Mieville's alternate universes (while most of his books are set in the invented world of Bas-Lag, his first novel King Rat and many of his shorter works are set in an alternate London somewhat similar to the one he uses here). One way or the other, though, I will not stop in my quest to get everyone I come into contact with to read China Mieville's stuff until, well, everyone has. And that includes you, so hop to it. **** ½

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