Written by: China Meiville
Kindle Version: 469 pages
Publisher: Random House
February 2007, $8.99
Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult (Though more appropriate for grades 5-8 in my opinion)
“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.”
The last time we met for YA Book club, we were talking about how some of the plot stereotypes are getting old. In particular the character/protagonist who thinks they have no powers then magically not only finds out that they do have powers, but that they are the most powerful ones in that particular verse. I would love for the hero to just be normal amidst all of the paranormal. So Finn decided to choose Un Lun Dun where apparently the normal girl is the hero. More than that the premise sounded great. An Unlondon kind of like the Nightside by Simon R Green, or Neverwhere or Mirrormask by Neil Gaiman. Sounds like the kind of thing I would dig right?
And then I began to read it. I had been wanting to read China Mieville for some time and while I probably would have chosen his adult novels before YA, it worked for me. Except as I began to read I was annoyed. Oh look Destiny is a theme again and it looks like Zanna is the Chosen One. Frustrating. Finn lied. And then I kept reading. Yeah.
Zanna and Deeba two best friends from London begin to notice strange things, all surrounding Zanna. Eventually the two find themselves in Un Lun Dun, which is essentially an UnLondon where everything is strange and unusual and the world is populated by all of the things and trash that London no longer needs or has found obsolete. But Unlondon is in trouble and its up to The Schwazzy to save them. But who really is the Schwazzy?
Things I loved: Destiny and Fate are very frequent themes in so much of YA fiction. This isn't necessarily a bad thing but it is really nice to read something that strays from the Narnia/Spiderwick/Harry Potter formulas. It isn't fate that moves the story along. It is the choices that the characters make and it is based on who they are not what they may be. That is awesome. And I absolutely love that Mieville surprised me. I really did think the whole novel was going to be about Zanna and I found her extremely boring and selfish.
The overall plot switched up the paces as well. Characters die, things get lost and it became more than the hero’s journey.
The world is really what makes this book. In many ways I both loved and hated UnLondon. Its odd and fantastic where a school of fish in a diving suit is a sentient being, where a man can be clothed in books and where giraffes are people eating monsters (sometimes illustrated beautifully by Mieville, the giraffe sketch by the way is frightening which is just awesome) . For a child I can imagine that the whole experience would be sublime. As an adult, I felt that Un Lun Dun should be in the Harry Potter age section rather than Young Adult. It read a bit too young and the puns are not good. They were cute at first and then they just got old. Really fast. Like in the first 10 chapters fast.
And yet I dig the strangeness of it all. I only wish that he had spent as much time with his characters as he did his world building which is by far the best character in the book. How can you not love forests in houses and litter that is sentient. I mean who wouldn't want to have a cute little milk carton as a pet? Which brings us to the things I didn't love so much.
Things I didn't love so much: I don’t understand why authors dumb down language for young adult books. I can maybe understand independent readers, which is where I think this should be marketed and shelved, but the scaled down prose and language is just irritating. Plus like Empty, an earlier novel I read, the sledgehammer to the head approach in your save the environment theme made me want to toss the book away. And yet my biggest gripe was that this book relied so heavily on its quirkiness and on descriptions that the core things that made me excited (turning the whole ‘chosen one to save a fantastic land’ cliched plot on its head) got lost.
While I liked Deeba at first and in the ned, she is fairly one dimensional. I cant relate to her even though I really wanted to as she is just the normal girl with a really weird name. She isn't fleshed out for me. I dont have a clear picture of who she is or what she looks like. She is the most mundane of them all and it is sad when secondary characters whose ‘fleshing out’ is primarily due to their descriptions of appearances and mannerisms. I couldn't get emotionally involved with any of them and that is extremely disappointing.
I really wish I had read Perdido Street Station which has been sitting in my TBR pile for more than a year rather this one. I was extremely disappointed considering how much people throw Mieville’s name out to me as an author to read. And yet I saw really awesome potential in Un Lun Dun which is probably why I am so disappointed.
Buy or Borrow: Borrow
Part of: A Standalone
Also Recommended: For strange worlds I would recommend watching Neil Gaiman’s Mirrormask or reading Neverwhere. For an adult version of another London, Simon R Green’s Nightside series is amazing. The Phantom Tollbooth would be a nice recommendation as well. If you are a Mieville fan, perhaps Kraken his latest?
2.25 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks
The Soundtrack for this Post: Possibly Maybe by Bjork, Wait by The Kills, Abandon Opening Titles by Clint Mansell and Closer by the Gracious Few.