Thursday, December 4, 2008

books: UnLunDun, by China Mieville

Yup, ladies and gentlemen, I finished UnLunDun first, and I'm kind of sad because now it's over and I can't look forward to there being more story when I go to bed each night. (It's been replaced by Frek and the Elixir, which it weird and entertaining so far in the first two chapters, and fulfills this month's imperative to read a book I already own.)

Let me say up front: I loved this book. I almost cried at the end because it was over. I did cheer at how it was over. I went up to my roomies and told them they have to read it.

And here's my favorite part: It's a classive 80s fantasy movie turned on it's side and rotated a bit. Zanna and Deeba are normal little London Chavs, going to school, living in Estates, using poor grammar, being teenagers-- and then they realize that animals keep taking special notice of Zanna and soon they find themselves in UnLunDun, the oter side of the coin that is London, what's called an abcity. All the major cities have them, and they all have clever negation-names like Parisn't and Old York. Everything lost and unwanted in London winds up in UnLunDun where everything is weird. Bus conductors are sworn guards of the people, the people aren't always people, trash has a life of its own, puns abound in clever and useful ways, and the smog is the worst thing the city has ever seen. It seems there's a prophesy that means Zanna will defeat the Smog, and the whole thing is mapped out in the Book they have to go consult to tell them what to do and how to get home...

And then it all goes a bit hinky. I would have loved it if it stayed entirely on track, having gorwn up through the Age of 80s Fantasy and being very fond of it, but I love it more because it's aware of all those things, all those tropes and expectations, and it comes at them sideways. Zanna, the chosen one, gets infected with smog and comes out of it with no memory and bad lungs-- leaving Deeba, who wasn't even mentioned except as a 'funny sidekick' in one line, to find a way back and to help. She kidnaps the Book and teams up with Hemi the half-ghost, who everyone is convinced is a minor villain, the heads out on the quest Zanna was supposed to make and decides it's too long and cuts right to the end-- using her brains and her heart to get through the challenges, and making friends along the way. The weapon they get is amazing, a big gun that does UnGun like things, and the final showdown is one of the best I have read.

The book is gorgeous. A dozen or so characters, and probably more minor characters are all individual and strange, the plot is very well-handled and polished, with no loose ends that I can see, and the bit at the end where Deeba has to go home and they're all pulling that 'we'll never see you again' thing the new friends always do? Priceless. I want to read this book to my kids. It makes me sad that it didn't exist when I was a kid. It's like Alice in Winderland and NeverWhere and Labyrinth and NeverEnding Story all thrown together with a bit of MorrorMask and some Stranger Than Fiction (just a pinch), and it's so visual that I have no problem comparing it to movies.

And it's written like it's aimed at kids, but it assumes they're smart enough to get the jokes and understand the consequences, and that makes it amazingly readable by adults.

So go read it.

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