Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Un Lun Dun

I think I may be on a young adult fantasy kick. Recently I read the first and, so far, only two books in Ursula Le Guin's new fantasy series and right now I am reading Un Lun Dun by China Mieville. I'm intrigued by Mieville's writing. He writes urban/modern fantasy. Generally that is fantasy outside of what you may consider traditional fantasy. I would group him in with Michael Swanwick, Sean Stewart and Kelly Link. I own his short story collection Looking for Jake. I have not finished the book but the stories I have read have really impressed me with the pure imagination that went into them.

Un Lun Dun is the story of two teenage girls who live in London and have adventures in a city that is a magical mirror of London called unLondon (hence the title). unLondon is not merely a reflection of London, it turns out the two cities exchange everything from clothing styles to garbage to enemies. The abcity (as it's called in the novel) is filled with as many variations of talking animals, bizarre humans or hybrids of the two that Mieville could dream up.

The city is being threatened by what is left of the Great London Smog of 1952. The girls appear in unLondon apparently to fill long kept prophecies. Instead of following what could easily be the usual journey of a hero in fantasy story Mieville starts throwing curveballs immediately. Nothing is as it's supposed to be and that's where the fun starts. Mieville directly attributes Lew Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as an inspiration. Probably because the debt is so obvious that he wanted to be the first to make the comparison.

He obviously had a lot of fun writing this. Some of the citizens of unLondon are fantastic enough to almost be beyond words. He's not afraid to go on little rampages of description when going on about the many strange denizens of unLondon. He also has the ability to give a place the right amount of strangeness with just a few words like this scene witnessed by the two girls in an unLondon open market, "They ran...past what looked like an argument at a honey stall between a bear in a suit and a cloud of bees in the shape of a man." At this point in the book there are two drawings, one of the bear in a suit and the cloud of bees in the shape of man. Throughout the book there are many inspired drawings of characters we encounter and they are all drawn by Mieville. There's a particularly great illustration of a carnivorous giraffe that you really should see.

I hope to have this book finished by tomorrow night so I can move on to the new Anchee Min book called The Last Empress. It's a sequel to Empress Orchid, a book I loved when I read it a couple of years ago.

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