Monday, September 14, 2009

Carnivorous Giraffes and Sentient U(n)brellas

Zanna and Deeba have just followed a walking umbrella (and mysterious signs that they’ve been seeing everywhere) and discovered the world of UnLondon, a fantastic place full of amazing creatures--carnivorous (and hungry!) giraffes, pet milk cartons, fighting trashcans called the Binja, and the Smog, which is trying to take control of the city. Zanna is hailed by the UnLondoners as their Shwazzy (Chosen One), but is quickly defeated and sent home, losing all her memories of UnLondon. Can a sidekick save the day? Find out as Deeba journeys back into UnLondon and has adventures all her own.

I ran a teen book club over the summer, and this was the first title that we read and discussed. Everyone was extremely enthusiastic about the book, and none of the 10 avid readers had heard of it before, even though it’s been out for a few years, so I thought I should write about it here, too.

China Mieville creates a vivid world, both with his writing and in the drawings throughout Un Lun Dun. Everything in UnLondon is just a little off, familiar enough to make you comfortable if you let down your guard, strange enough to remind you that you are travelling in new territory. Buildings are constructed from obsolete items that have made their way over from London (record players, typewriters, etc). Travel is by double-decker buses modified to fly. Danger comes not just from the Smog, but from ghosts, flying grossbottles, and spider-like Black Windows. When Deeba realizes that UnLondon is still in great danger, and that Zanna isn’t going to be much help, she has to figure out how to get back there on her own.

Un Lun Dun takes the common fantasy elements of prophecy and predestination and turns them on their heads. The (talking) Book that contains the predictions for UnLondon's future is sometimes wrong, often confused. Words and meanings have gotten garbled over the years, and are misinterpreted by the Propheseers. And some words actually spring into life as Utterlings. To save UnLondon, Deeba is given a list of tasks that she must complete, in order, that will enable her to get the tools to fight the Smog. But what is the true purpose of this quest? Does she really have to do everything on the list, or can she cut to the chase? And what is this UnGun that everyone keeps talking about, but no one has ever seen?

Mieville’s book will surprise you at every turn. Though everyone in my book club was asking if there was a second book, Un Lun Dun also proves that a fantasy novel doesn’t have to be part of a series to satisfy. Yes, you’ll be left wanting more, but your imagination won’t soon forget the world of UnLondon.

Cross posted at my brand new blog, Dwelling in Possibility.


Jeanne said...

I thought this was the best book for readers since Chabon's Summerland! Glad to see it getting more attention!

Becker said...

Well, hopefully it'll get a wider audience if we all keep promoting it. The kids in my book club said it was the best book they'd read since Harry Potter--high praise, indeed!