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3.7 out of 5 stars
Un Lun Dun
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
China Mieville's brilliant YA fantasy subverts the traditional genre elements, notably the ideas that only a person ordained by prophecy can defeat a Big Bad, fantastical worlds only accessible through special portals and that pretty blonde girls have to be the hero.

When Zanna and Deeba realise that a broken umbrella is watching Zanna one night, they follow it and find themselves in the parallel world of UnLondon. There they discover that Zanna is the Shwazzy, the only person able to defeat the Smog, a cloud of noxious gas intent on dominating and destroying both UnLondon and London. But just as Zanna's embraces the role she's unexpectedly incapacitated. Someone has to help UnLondon if it is to survive, and Deeba volunteers. But she's not the Shwazzy, so what good can she possibly do?

Mieville's imagination blew me away. His UnLondon is familiar to Londoners (double-decker buses, markets, even a version of the London Eye) but he mixes it with the surreal - cannibal giraffes and houses constructed from rubbish amongst others. He uses puns to great effect and I'd recommend this book for the binjas alone. Politics also plays a big part in the book, with London's government being tied to what's happening in UnLondon. There's a distinctly anti-authoritarian feel to the text with the motivation of political leaders and even the book of prophecy all being questioned and found wanting.

Mieville illustrates his own text and the drawings are evocative and help flesh out his world. Deeba's a very human heroine, brave because she needs to be and prone to self-doubt and I particularly liked the scene where she refuses to jump through the normal prophecy hoops. Her helpers are well written, particularly Hemi the half-ghost boy who sees shoplifting as extreme shopping, Jones the bus conductor and I loved Curdle the milk carton. My only quibble is that where Mieville kills members of her team, those members haven't quite been in the book long enough for it to have a big emotional impact.

The slow build-up might put off some readers, but the chapters are kept short and there are some wonderfully written scenes (my favourite being one with a Black Window spider, which is very creepy). Mieville leaves an opening for a sequel and I would love to see more of the world he's created. Teens reading this will want to read more of his work.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 30 November 2011
One day, Zanna and Deeba somehow end up in Un Lun Dun, which is much like London only entirely not. They find out that Zanna is the chosen one, and she must destroy the smog...only Zanna doesn't want to so they hand over to the citizens of Un Lun Dun, go home and Zanna's memories are taken. But something doesn't make sense and Deeba can't stop thinking about what's happening in Un Lun Dun.

I found this book wonderfully vivid and imaginative, a great read and it would no doubt make a great movie as it has a good number of visual elements that would work well like that. The opening is a little dull and predictable, we have all the traditional fantasy setup of the chosen one, the evil one who needs defeating, the sidekick, the mentors...and then it all goes to pot and it gets interesting.

Deeba is a wonderful, likeable character who grows a lot during the novel and really comes to find herself. The backdrop for the story is wonderful and imaginative, it made me want to explore Un Lun Dun. I was expecting kind of a city below like Neverwhere but Un Lun Dun is a city beside, I suppose. Kind of like an alternate dimension where it's kind of like London but at the same time very much not. As it's primarily a young adult book the villain is a little flat sometimes, though to it's credit it has reasons for doing what it does beyond "Muwhahaha I'm evil" which is as far as some fantasy gets. The side characters and charming and memorable, like Curdle the milk carton and Bling and Couldron the words. I got to relaly care about a whole host of them and that's another good thing about the book, it isn't afriad to make you feel things.

Deeba as a character is endearing not only in that she's positioned from the outset at the underdog, Zanna's sidekick, but in that she's adorably teenaged. She uses slang like bling and innit and at times just talks like a teenager and wants the things that teenagers want.

So, yeah. The book is aborable, endearing, and has characters you will remember and care about. The world is vivid and interesting. My only big annoyance was I worked out the end reveal about two chapters too early and ended up having to skim read those two chapters, thuogh the fact that once I'd worked it out it made me actually nervous and so full of energy and concern I had to skim read ahead to make sure Deeba worked it out and it was of is a testement to the book. Also, given it's a young adult book my getting the point early isn't unexpected...but yeah. IT's good. Go read it now.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 18 December 2012
my brother, his granddaughter, myself and my grandson all loved this story.
accessable to teenagers who may go on to read PERDIDO STREET STATION.
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on 1 December 2014
It might be a bit unfair of me to review this as it's a children's book and I'm 34, but I've re-read a number of books I read as a child and in comparison to those I found this quite poor. I just couldn't connect to it, there were some good ideas in it but there was no depth. Not sure what age it is intended for, as some of the content is a little graphic, bit without the relevant vibe to complement it. I hadn't actually realised it wasn't a book for adults, but once I'd purchased it I thought I ought to read it!
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on 17 July 2013
This book started out fairly promisingly but the plot soon fizzled out to be swamped by surreal imagery and an unrealistic alternative London. Some of China Mieville's ideas are startlingly imaginative, but they all seemed a bit pointless. I persevered till about half way through and then abandoned it - I couldn't get interested in what happened next. A fanciful, stylised Steampunk sort of book, it stimulates the imagination and it will I am sure sell well among his many followers, but it's just not my style.
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on 29 August 2012
I was nervous that this would be Mieville-lite, sanitised and twee for the children. I needn't have worried - it has the same edge as his adult work, but at the same time is at a level where I wouldn't be nervous about a young teenager picking it up. The novel draws on the essence of London, much in the way that Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere did, but with a very different flavour and texture. It also avoids the usual traps that come from a prophetic statement about what the future holds. Strongly recommended.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 22 June 2011
Un Lun Dun is the first "young adult" offering from one of science-fiction's brightest young writers. The book centers around the adventures of two young girls, Zanna and Deeba, in a surreal parallel London cityscape, and their attempts to thwart the evil "Smog" that dogs their every move.

Un Lun Dun is not a novel concept- that the central premise is a "standard chosen one deal" is explicitly acknowledged in the book itself- and while Mieville does come up with some great new ideas, you can't escape the feeling that he's just bolting his own innovations, however interesting in themselves (MOIL technology, the giraffes), onto an existing model. The parallels with Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere in particular are inescapable- and indeed, Mievielle thanks Gaiman in his acknowledgements as an inspiration. Prehaps because the comparison springs so easily to mind, Mieville's offering is bound to come up short.

But when Un Lun Dun IS taken simply as Neverwhere for the pre-teen crowd, it is rather more successful than might be imagined. The lack of originality is compensated for by Mieville's whimsical puns and illustrations, which bring a touch of Phatom-Tollbooth-esq lightness to an occasionally dark story, and the immediacy of the action and the rapid drive of the narrative are likely to please younger readers. Mieville is as gifted as anyone else when it comes to distilling and subverting the particular "essence" of London and rendering it's fictional twin recognisable and familiar, even as he populates it with the weird and wonderful. He's also unafraid to approach real-world issues through the prism of his creation, the sign of a truly great sci-fi/fantasy writer.

Still, you sense the author isn't entirely comfortable with his younger audience, as is amply demonstrated by the over-reliance on cliched youth patois ("innit"/"dunno"/"not even") in the oddly sparse dialogue. Characterisation in general is a weak point for the book; introductions are brief as Mieville hurries to get Zenna and Deeba into Un Lun Dun itself. Inevitably, it's hard to warm to them, though Deeba is easily the more likeable of the two. Lesser characters are given similarly cursory treatment, flitting in and out of the story before you get the chance to care about them, and I suspect this will cause a lot of younger readers to lose patience.

At the end of the day, Un Lun Dun is certainly good fun. It would serve as a great introduction to this kind of nu-fantasy for a younger reader less well aquainted with the genre. Unfortunately, given the excess of fantasy and sci-fi in the modern young adult market, that's exactely the reader Mieville is unlikely to get. Ultimately, the book's occasional flashes of brilliance and originality can't compensate for it's lack of heart and novelty.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 1 March 2007
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.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
The dark surrealism of Gene Wolfe, the cheeky flippancy of Jack Vance and the clever wordplay of Piers Anthony combine here with a myriad other influences into an overly lengthy but creditably original work.

Miéville proves not to be a natural writer of young adult fiction. I felt distinctly at times that Miéville's first drafts had been written in the wonderful style of 'Perdido Street Station' and only subsequently simplified to make the story more accessible to younger readers. This impression of reconstruction together with an uneven pace and some dodgy dialogue made it a sometimes difficult read.

That said, I'm glad I read it. Much of the imagery (assisted by the author's own pencil illustrations) and humour are memorable and I reckon people between 11 and 16 would find the mix of horror, adventure and other-worldliness highly enjoyable. It's just that, as an adult, I think I'll be much happier when I pick up my third Miéville novel - 'The Scar'.
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on 18 January 2014
I really tried with this book, but its one of the few books I've ever abandoned. The premise of the book - an alternative hidden London- is fine, but it's just such a turgid uninspiring read, with cardboard 'working class' heros. Sorry.
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