China Mieville earned himself a reputation for being edgy and unconventional with the outstanding novel 'Perdido street station'. The other worldliness of that novel was then reproduced in 'The scar' but unfortunately it all went horribly wrong with the turgid & very boring 'The iron council'. Since then,(2005), he has not released another adult novel and so it is with some hope & no little trepidation that his latest is received. Set in the city of Beszel we are quickly introduced to a murder victim & the inspector investigating the crime. At the same time we learn that Beszel shares its space with another city called Ul Quoma. The two seem to somehow share the same space but have a long standing hatred of one another and so have invented a whole litany of rules and regulations to ensure the other is ignored by it's residents & anyone who fails to follow the rules is rapidly dealt with by the all seeing & deadly 'Breach'. Confused? You will be as Mieville refuses to let out much information at any one time and keeps his characters under tight wraps. Just how did the girl die & why? Why does no one want to deal with the problem? For every answer given another question arises and this is where the author really finds himself without any modern day peers. He is able to confuse & disorient his reader while at the same time weaving an increasingly powerful aura of exotic mystery and suspense. The two cities are placed, not into some new fictional world or even Mievilles already existing one from his previous novels, rather they exist in our world with the beauty of mundane everyday actions like tourism given a fascinating slant for those wishing to visit Beszel. It's our history but with the 2 cities histories blended and subtly distorting what we know. This author excels when lending an air of menace and strangeness to his work. The sense of foreboding is always there, you struggle in vain to see why, but it's ever present and drives the reader on to the next page and chapter. This really is a return to form for this writer and that means this is a riveting and slightly confusing & scary ride with barely a moment to pause. You won't necessarily follow everything all the time but then you're not meant to. Instead this is best enjoyed as a sort of hypnagogic experience where what you see seems so real but in fact reality is just out of reach. The ending is no let down and offers an explanation most will not have considered. If you enjoyed his previous novels then this will definitely not disappoint. If you are new to his work then this is a great introduction to an author whose ability to paint new worlds and alternate realities is of the very highest order. An excellent book that bears repeated reading.
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