Friday, June 10, 2011


Un Lun Dun, China Mieville, Ballantine Books, 2007, 429 pp

I gave myself a crash course in China Mieville over the past few weeks in preparation for his current release, Embassytown. This was the first of his books I have ever read, though not the first one he has written. So far, it is his only book for children. He got the writing for kids just right, I thought.

In the usual tradition of fantasy, Zanna and her friend Deeba enter a strange city through a portal. They are twelve-year-old "estate" girls in London. (In British English, an estate means a housing project.) The strange city turns out to be another version of London, consisting of rejects, both people and objects, from an earlier era. UnLondon is also a dumping ground for the pollution of London, threatening the existence of everyone there.

Because most things in Un Lun Dun are altered if not downright opposite, Deeba becomes the one who decides to help save the uncity. Though Zanna was the prophesied chosen one, it took an unheroine to conquer the evil.

An array of unusual characters, including Obaday Fing, a tailor whose head is a pincushion, and Brokkenbroll, who runs a troop of broken umbrellas, are Deeba's true friends and dastardly enemies. Often she is hard pressed to know which are which. The buildings and byways of the uncity are crazily cobbled together out of London's trash. Even some of the trash takes on a role in the story.

With endless inventiveness, Mieville keeps up the interest in what is an unusually long tale for kids, though fans of Eragon, the Harry Potter books, and other fantasy tomes should have no problem with a mere 429 pages.

Un Lun Dun was eerily reminiscent of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere but apparently the two authors are friendly. In the acknowledgments, Mieville thanks Gaiman "for generous encouragement and for his indispensable contributions to London phantasmagoria." In fact, friendship is a strong theme in the story. Even after Deeba emerges victorious, she has a hard time with vengeance. Once she is safely back with her family, she takes steps to insure justice is done but not harm.

Highly recommended for fantasy readers of all ages.

(Un Lun Dun is available on the fantasy/sci fi shelves at Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

No comments:

Post a Comment