Author: China Miéville
Publication Date: 2/13/07
Publisher: Del Rey
Blurb(GR): What is Un Lun Dun? It is London through the looking glass, an urban Wonderland of strange delights where all the lost and broken things of London end up . . . and some of its lost and broken people, too–including Brokkenbroll, boss of the broken umbrellas; Obaday Fing, a tailor whose head is an enormous pin cushion, and an empty milk carton called Curdle. Un Lun Dun is a place where words are alive, a jungle lurks behind the door of an ordinary house, carnivorous giraffes stalk the streets, and a dark cloud dreams of burning the world. It is a city awaiting its hero, whose coming was prophesied long ago, set down for all time in the pages of a talking book.
When twelve-year-old Zanna and her friend Deeba find a secret entrance leading out of London and into this strange city, it seems that the ancient prophecy is coming true at last. But then things begin to go shockingly wrong.
Wow. How do I describe this book? It’s on the one hand a bit of an ode to all of the quest based, parallel world containing fantasies that have come before: The Wizard of Oz, Narnia, Mary Poppins, Alice in Wonderland, most of Neil Gaiman’s catalogue, hell even Harry Potter. On the other hand, it undermines the typical tenets of these books in a way that’s a bit of a fuck you to the whole genre. It also manages to transcend both of these things and become a decent quest based, parallel world containing fantasy itself. It’s fun, playful, and sometimes just downright silly. I wish that I could morph into Will Ferrell as James Lipton right now and declare it delightful. There are a few things that I could have done without, but for the most part I really enjoyed this book.
It all starts when Susanna “Zanna” and her BFF Deeba notice a few strange things around their estate: A fox looks at them gravely, Zanna’s face appears in a cloud, a flattering graffito proclaims “Zanna For Ever!,” and odd people start recognizing Zanna around the town and calling her “Shwazzy.” One night Zanna and Deeba follow a spying broken umbrella unbrella and discover a way into London’s “abcity” – Unlondon. Soon Zanna is discovering that she’s a hero of great prophecy, destined to save Unlondon from a powerful enemy. But everything gets turned on its ear when Zanna falls to the enemy and loses her memory. Now it’s up to the Unheroes to save the day.
The city of Unlondon is wonderfully described in all its breathtaking, peculiar detail. It’s a feast for the imagination...the kind of feast where there are about twelve different utensils that you’ve never seen before, and every course is comprised of something that you didn’t even know could be classified as a food. There are so many parts of the city that I fell in love with: the donut sun, the book of prophecies (who was written by idiots), the killer giraffes, the binjas, the extreme librarians, the utterlings, CURDLE! Some of the inanimate objects in this book have more personality than human characters I’ve spent time with. But there were a few times that I felt like it was just a bit…ham-fisted. Like the character that is essentially a bunch of fish trapped in a diving suit named…Skool. Get it? Skool!
I also really don’t love the Ungun. I absolutely adore everytime Deeba goes against “the rules” by bypassing the prophecies or outwitting some of the bad guys. But the Ungun just seems like such a magical panacea of a weapon. I don’t like easy solutions in fantasy novels, and I wish that this was one of the tenets that he had chosen to subvert in this book.
It’s really hard to know who to recommend this book for. I think that a subset of the reading population will think that it’s the best thing since sliced bread. Another set will think that it’s absolutely crazytrain. I guess if you enjoy bizarre/absurd fantasy and like playing with words, I would say give this a try.
Perfect Musical Pairing
Radiohead – Subterranean Homesick Alien