27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Un Lun Dun is the fifth novel by British fantasy author China Mieville. Mieville has become the guiding light of the 'New Weird' fantasy movement which has become a major force in the genre in the last few years, and in his Bas-Lag novels he's created a compellingly different secondary world mixing elements of fantasy and steampunk to good effect. However, in this latest book Mieville takes a break from Bas-Lag to instead write and illustrate his first novel for younger readers. Given that Mieville's adult work has a grotesque fairy-tale quality to it, this isn't as strange a move as it first seems, and his writing and the subject matter turn out to be a winning combination.
Another world lies beyong this one, separated from it by immense distance but at the same time accessible through cracks in reality. Each city in our world has its own reflection or 'abcity' in this other world. The great metropolis of London is shadowed by UnLondon, a city of the dispossessed and the magical, a city under threat by a sinister force known only as the Smog. Into this world come two young girls, Deeba and Zanna, whose coming has long been foretold. They are prophecised to save UnLondon from the Smog, but there is one snag: they haven't a clue how they're going to do it.
Un Lun Dun opens with Mieville on slightly shaky ground, betraying a slight lack of confidence in tackling this new audience (particularly in his handling of how streetwise London kids talk and interact). Perhaps aware this isn't his natural element, he very quickly hurls his characters into the streets of UnLondon and unleashes his fertile imagination in full force, rapidly ensnaring our protagonists in a very strange but at the same time familiar landscape populated by all manner of weird and wonderful creatures. In the afterword to the book, Mieville expresses his thanks to Lewis Carroll, Beatrix Potter, Clive Barker and Neil Gaiman, and indeed the novel is reminiscent of a crazy mash-up between those writers in style and tone. But it is Mieville's constant invention that really impresses the reader, from the bullet-proof umbrellas to the ninja dustbins to the half-ghosts to the black windows. Nearly every one of the 99 short chapters introduces an impressive new concept or character or idea that will keep readers enthralled and rattling through it's 500 pages at quite a pace.
The novel follows in the recent footsteps of Phillip Pullman by being a fiendishly clever, original children's tale whilst simultaneously telling a different story to adult readers. Mieville's political leanings are pretty clear from his earlier work, but Un Lun Dun weaves them in perhaps more subtly than before, with some biting social commentary on the environment and the responsibilities of government. He even has time to mildly attack overly repressive anti-terror legislation, which is a surprising move in a YA novel, but something I suspect most younger readers won't even notice. Mieville doesn't pull any punches in this regard despite this being no doubt seen by some as a 'lighter' work; he's also not afraid to kill off characters either, lending the book a slightly darker edge than some other YA books around at the moment. Some very mild counter-points to the Harry Potter books can also be found in the novel, particularly Mieville's hatred of the class system and a very funny take on the nature of prophecy.
Aside from the shaky opening, Un Lun Dun's only other major flaw is that the ending is left perhaps a little bit too open for a sequel or three. However, the new world that Mieville has created is every bit as compelling and fresh and interesting as Bas-Lag is (if far more whimsical), and return trips to UnLondon and the other abcities will be most welcome. Praise must also be given to Mieville's illustrations, which adorn the book. They are superb, lying somewhere at the Monty Python end of the spectrum of surrealism (but pretty accurately depicting what's going on in the text) and adding a great deal to the enjoyment of the book.
26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Deeba and Zanna discover a wheel in a basement, Zenna turns it and realizes that something weird is happening - London is being switched off! Zanna and Deeba are two best friends and they find themselves in the world of UnLondon, a place where London's discarded things somehow end up. UnLondon is under siege by the sinister Smog (a poisonous cloud) and is waiting for its saviour to arrive as prophesised by their magic book that can speak. Guided by this book the girls have to try and put an end to the poisonous cloud. A crew of UnLondon locals, the likes of which you will have never dreamed, joins them in their quest! UnLondon is more than a little unusual but an absolute wonder to read about.
If you love Neil Gaiman (especially Neverwhere), Terry Pratchett and Lewis Carroll then this book will be a particular delight for you
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 7 September 2012
I started reading this book to my two grand daughters as I have read all his adult books and also this one before starting it for the girls...its just so different and keeps them enthralled.
The 11 year old is not a keen reader but became hooked on this one and insisted on taking the book home to read herself, resulting in tears from the 8 year old who reminded me that she actually is the reader in the family!
So I had to get another copy for her to take home, I think she is a
little young really,to read it for herself but its on her bookshelf now and no doubt in time she will be encouraged to get started on it and will be as excited by the book too.
I think it really is interesting for children, different, and opens their eyes to the possibilities of other worlds and ideas, as well as giving people of my age the opportunity to talk of the clean air act and London smog, and why it happened...China Mieville brings together the fantastic and historical facts and possibilities. Buy it for your young ones!!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 24 August 2011
I have to admit, before reading Un Lun Dun I was slightly worried it would be a bit too light for my tastes. However being a huger fan of anything i've ever read by China Mieville I thought I would give it a try.
I was genuinely charmed by the world Mieville creates. UnLondon literally leaps off the page and becomes as familiar as the world around you. The characters are vivid and realistic, but I did feel they lacked in depth at times and relationships seemed to spring up all the time with very little development.
The plot is rich and engaging without being over-complex, with a great big dollop of original and interesting ideas. I don't like to write reviews containing plot spoilers, but the resolution of the story was brilliant (if a bit obvious).
Basically, I think this book is smashing and I would highly recommend it. It's a bit of an easier read than most of Mieville's catalogue and I certainly think an enthusiastic teenager could definitely tackle it, although I wouldn't class it as a child's book.
27 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on 5 May 2007
Having just read the disappointing Iron Council I was happily very impressed with Un Lun Dun. It's supposed to be a children's book but me at 43 years old truly enjoyed this fantastic fantasy adventure. It's 520 pages long (in hard back) but it's so exciting that if you pick this book up you'll fly through it in no time. This is the first book I've ever read that at the end of it I wanted to start it all over again! China Miéville is a real great talent. For the adults out there I also recommended his Bas Lag novels "The Scar" and "Perdido Street Station", which is one of my favourite novels of all time. But those novels are definitely not for children. I've given "Un Lun Dun" Five out of five. Go get it.
on 29 February 2012
Back in 2010 I read my first and thus far only Miéville. I'd only become aware of his writing due to starting to read book blogs, but everyone was highly complementary, so I knew I needed to read some of his work. However, I was also a little intimidated, because Miéville's work was described as very smart and layered and here I was thinking: "What if I don't get it?" Luckily, I did get The City & The City - I think - so I really wanted to read more of his work. And in August last year I got really lucky and won a copy of his book Un Lun Dun in a giveaway on Mel's Random Reviews. It still took me a while to get to it, but once I did I was again swept away by Miéville's fantastic writing and his imaginative creations. In a word, Un Lun Dun was amazing!
Un Lun Dun is a YA book and as such perhaps far more accessible than say Miéville's Embassytown (which, for the record, I haven't read) and I totally adored this book and his UnLondon. The book was just so much fun. UnLondon is a wonderful creation, which has some clear echo's of the London we know and love, but also is a place totally its own. The Ghosts have their own Quarter and are peopled with those who can't move on, but also don't have a place in the world above any more. This wonderful world of moily houses and discarded appliances which pop up randomly in the street is populated by some amazing creatures, such as binja's, the Black Windows, Unbrella's and the rebrella's. They are not just described in a wonderful fashion, they are also included as illustrations drawn by Miéville himself, which makes them even more fun.
Un Lun Dun is not just an example of great, imaginative world building, but also of fantastic playing with language. Miéville plays with words in so many ways, whether it is by punning, by creating onomatopoeic representations of regular words, such as The Schwazzy and the klinneract, or by creating words or names with double meanings, such as Brokkenbroll, the master of the Unbrella's or the broken brollies. It was a joy to try and identify these words and every time I got one I felt full of triumph, though this task might be easier for native speakers!
The fact that Deeba was the UnChosen, which of course makes far more sense for UNLondon, is not just a word joke - which I really liked - but also part of a larger phenomenon in Un Lun Dun--the subverting of traditional tropes. I loved how Miéville played with the tropes of the genre, sometimes seemingly following them and at others just turning them on their head. For example, the prophecy, which turns out to be incorrect and the quest for the UnGun, setting us up for a classic 'following the predetermined path to gain the needed McGuffin in seven easy steps' which Deeba decides to cut short pretty brutally. Un Lun Dun is also pretty scary and Miéville doesn't keep back from killing off characters, the loss of some of which left me a little teary.
You can see where Miéville draws inspiration from Gaiman - something which the author acknowledges in his afterword - and it wouldn't have helped that I read Neverwhere in the days prior to starting Un Lun Dun. But even though the influence is clear, Un Lun Dun is its own story and completely Miéville. Un Lun Dun is a fantastic story, which while it's classed YA, is also suitable to the more mature MG reader, however parents might want to check beforehand whether they think their child is ready for the book. In any case Un Lun Dun is not just must read Miéville, but also must read YA fantasy.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 15 April 2013
This book i found to be very good i enjoyed the story from the start its wonderfull. Ill update when i finsh i will be getting more by this aurther thank you leila
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 31 August 2010
I wasn't too sure about this book to begin with and it took a while to warm to. But soon I found myself immersed in the world of Un Lun Dun and I was strangely enjoying it. Why did it take me so long? Because it was dark, dirty, grimy but I couldn't deny how imaginative and well written it was. It takes special talent to pull of something this dark and make it so delightful, intriguing and memorable.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
"In an unremarkable room, in a nondescript building, a man sat working on very nondescript theories..."
It's a determinedly unremarkable beginning for a very unique, very bizarre fantasy book, but I guess you can expect no less from fantasy's current prince of the bizarre, China Mieville. His oddly-named children's book "Un Lun Dun" immediately immerses the reader in a vaguely Gaimanesque glimpse into another world, with vaguely sinister, colourful prose and a likable cast of very odd characters.
Twelve-year-old Zanna is being followed by weird things -- odd graffiti, moving umbrellas, fearless foxes, and malevolent smoke. But their search for answers leads them to a strange otherworld with a holey sun and bizarre inhuman inhabitants, known as Un Lun Dun (Un-London, get it?) -- where discarded or lost things are sent. Like any such heroine, Zanna and her friend Deeba are mainly interested in getting home... but of course, it's not that simple.
Turns out that Zanna is the Shwazzy (the required chosen one) and there's a prophecy about her (natch), and how she has to destroy the Smog -- the coagulated remains of all that was bad, which can only be destroyed by the magical Klinneract. The girls set out to stop the Smog, and suffer some fairly nasty setbacks in their battle against it. They'll try their best -- but Zanna may not be quite up to fulfilling the prophecy.
Pincushion-headed tailors, fly-riding pirates, flesh-eating giraffes, ninja dustbins, pet milk cartons, walking lobsters and attacks from trashbags -- China Mieville has a knack for taking the ordinary, and twisting it just enough that it becomes wonderfully grotesque. In this case, he spins up a story that seems like the movie "Recycle" combined with some of Neil Gaiman's lighter fare -- a nowhere land full of the discarded, who turn out to be quite odd.
And his writing lives up to the story beautifully, able to fill Un Lun Dun with a sort of decrepit whacked-out charm. Not to mention a lot of vivid dialogue ("Its thoughts are clotted with poisons, and things we've burnt to get rid of"), word jokes (guess what the Klinneract is), and wild descriptions ("a shimmering wall of colored cloth and thin metal fingers").
While some moments are a bit too arch, Mieville injects the story with a wicked sense of humor (other cities are called Parisn't, No York, Lost Angeles, Hong Gone...) and eccentric details (clothes are made out of printed books). And he takes a few clever jabs at your average quest fantasy, such as the required sidekick ("It's alright. She's in here. Page seventy-seven 'Shwazzy's First Appearance. Look her up in the index:'Shwazzy, Companions of the.'").
The down-to-earth Deeba succeeds in being far more interesting than the Shwazzy Zanna, but both girls are quite likable and clever despite their relative ordinariness. And the supporting cast is a pretty colourful bunch, ranging from the Unbrellissimo (boss of broken umbrellas) to the Propheseers, from the adorable Curdle to the lifelong sky-travelers.
"Un Lun Dun" is a lump of weird, wild and sometimes wonderful, through and though. China Mieville certainly knows how to turn London on its ear, Gaiman-style.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 16 December 2012
I liked a lot of the story. The characters were interesting. I was often reminded of The Phantom Tollbooth, which is good.
The slang used by the main character got annoying. "We was" etc.. If you can ignore that then it's fine.