Michael's Reviews > The City & the City

The City & the City by China Miéville
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's review
Nov 27, 2009

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bookshelves: 2000s, china-mieville, fiction-that-speculates
Read in December, 2009

Inspector Borlu of Beszel's Extreme Crime Squad investigates the murder of a woman whose body was found naked at a park, a mattress thrown on top of it. At first he believes it to be a local prostitute. However, as he investigates, things quickly get more complicated, and more dangerous for Borlu.

While the body was found in the city of Beszel, Borlu realises the murder was done in the city of Ul Quoma. Ul Quoma is a city which occupies the same physical space as Beszel, but is 'unseen' by Beszel citizens. Likewise, those in Ul Quoma unsee the buildings and the people of Beszel. Anyone in Beszel caught interacting with Ul Quoma has committed breach, and will be taken by Breach, a silent and invisible police unbeholden to either city. No one comes back from breach.

As Borlu continues to investigate the murder, he discovers the woman was involved with unificationists who want to unite the two cities into one. She also was fascinated by Orciny, a theoretical third city hidden in the forgotten areas between Beszel and Ul Quoma. As he continues to dig deeper, he is pulled deeper and deeper into an elaborate conspiracy.

This isn't as convoluted as I've probably made it sound. Mieville's city fetish goes totally crazy this time around, and he's ended up with something very innovative.

After hearing the synopsis of this book, I thought the idea sounded cool but I didn't think he'd really be able to pull it off. He does, and it's fascinating. The book remains a murder mystery throughout, while still being an exploration of the strange bi-city, although the mystery of the murder lags behind the mystery of what's really going on in the city (and the city and the city). You end up with something a little closer stylistically to The Bourne Identity than Sherlock Holmes for much of the book. That's not a good thing or a bad thing, just a thing.

Is it as good as the Bas Lag books? No. The characters are underdone and the conclusion lacks the savory finish of Perdido Street Station or The Scar. I don't feel it's QUITE a four-star book because the plot and the characters lag so far behind the setting. The story here is nothing the least bit new, and the main character has very little personality. The word 'detective' alone probably conjures everything you need to know about this guy. So, without the setting, this book would be utterly blah.

But the setting is, like I said, innovative and brilliant. If you're new to Mieville, I wouldn't suggest starting here. But, if you're already a fan, this is Mieville doing what he's good at. And his creativity is off the chain, as usual.
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Reading Progress

12/04/2009 page 160
51.28% "Fascinating so far, although I've been too hooked on The West Wing to spend much time reading."
05/29/2016 marked as: read

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