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Un Lun Dun review

The New Weird’s leading light does it for the kids

Author: China Miéville

Publisher: Macmillan

522 pages • £9.99

ISBN: 978-0-230-01627-9

Rating:

It was last year when SFX first heard that China Miéville was working on a children’s novel. Frankly, it seemed the most incongruous piece of SF literary gossip. China Miéville, specialist in the traumatically gothic, writing kids’ books? Are you sure?!

Yet think on it further and there’s a sense to Miéville’s switching focus. The third of his Bas-Lag novels, The Iron Council, was damn-near perfect; both a dark fantasy shot through with extraordinary imagery and a brilliant dramatisation of ideas surrounding revolution. Books that good can sometimes act as full stops on a phase of a novelist’s career – did the same thought occur to Miéville?

Certainly, it’s tempting to read Un Lun Dun as Miéville returning to his roots. Just as his debut, King Rat, was a journey into London’s netherworlds, the new novel tramps a similar path, except that here the Un Lun Dun of the title is an alternate capital that exists to one side of our world.

It’s into this “abcity” that teenagers Zanna and Deeba fall, a strange urban landscape where buses fl y, ghosts have their own ghetto and Webminster Abbey (yes, Webminster) is populated by spidery, deadly windows. But Un Lun Dun is under threat: from Smog, transformed from mere pollution to all-consuming threat (and a metaphor for man’s effect on the environment).

Although there are a few moments when Miéville subverts fantasy and quest clichés too self-consciously, the book as a whole works beautifully, Zanna and Deeba’s adventures delivering thrills, humour and a sense of the eldritch just below the humdrum. Far down the line, when Miéville’s career draws to a close, Un Lun Dun won’t be regarded as his best novel, but it may be his best loved.

Jonathan Wright

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