China Miéville – Un Lun Dun

‘UnLondon is at war. We’re under attack. And it’s been written, for centuries, that you will come and save us.’

Stumbling through a secret entrance, Zanna and Deeba enter the strange wonderland of UnLondon. Here all the lost and broken things of London end up, and some of its people too – including Brokkenbroll, boss of the broken umbrella’s; and Hemi the half-ghost boy.

But the two girls have arrived at a dangerous time. UnLondon is a place where words are alive, where a jungle lurks behind the door of an ordinary house, where carnivorous giraffes stalk the streets…and a sinister cloud called Smog is bent on destruction. It’s a frightened city in need of a hero…

Back in 2010 I read my first and thus far only Miéville. I’d only become aware of his writing due to starting to read book blogs, but everyone was highly complementary, so I knew I needed to read some of his work. However, I was also a little intimidated, because Miéville’s work was described as very smart and layered and here I was thinking: “What if I don’t get it?” Luckily, I did get The City & The City – I think – so I really wanted to read more of his work. And in August last year I got really lucky and won a copy of his book Un Lun Dun in a giveaway on Mel’s Random Reviews. It still took me a while to get to it, but once I did I was again swept away by Miéville’s fantastic writing and his imaginative creations. In a word, Un Lun Dun was amazing!

Un Lun Dun is a YA book and as such perhaps far more accessible than say Miéville’s Embassytown (which, for the record, I haven’t read) and I totally adored this book and his UnLondon. The book was just so much fun. UnLondon is a wonderful creation, which has some clear echo’s of the London we know and love, but also is a place totally its own. The Ghosts have their own Quarter and are peopled with those who can’t move on, but also don’t have a place in the world above any more. This wonderful world of moily houses and discarded appliances which pop up randomly in the street is populated by some amazing creatures, such as binja’s, the Black Windows, Unbrella’s and the rebrella’s. They are not just described in a wonderful fashion, they are also included as illustrations drawn by Miéville himself, which makes them even more fun.

Un Lun Dun is not just an example of great, imaginative world building, but also of fantastic playing with language. Miéville plays with words in so many ways, whether it is by punning, by creating onomatopoeic representations of regular words, such as The Schwazzy and the klinneract, or by creating words or names with double meanings, such as Brokkenbroll, the master of the Unbrella’s or the broken brollies. It was a joy to try and identify these words and every time I got one I felt full of triumph, though this task might be easier for native speakers!

The fact that Deeba was the UnChosen, which of course makes far more sense for UNLondon, is not just a word joke – which I really liked – but also part of a larger phenomenon in Un Lun Dun—the subverting of traditional tropes. I loved how Miéville played with the tropes of the genre, sometimes seemingly following them and at others just turning them on their head. For example, the prophecy, which turns out to be incorrect and the quest for the UnGun, setting us up for a classic ‘following the predetermined path to gain the needed McGuffin in seven easy steps’ which Deeba decides to cut short pretty brutally. Un Lun Dun is also pretty scary and Miéville doesn’t keep back from killing off characters, the loss of some of which left me a little teary.

You can see where Miéville draws inspiration from Gaiman – something which the author acknowledges in his afterword – and it wouldn’t have helped that I read Neverwhere in the days prior to starting Un Lun Dun. But even though the influence is clear, Un Lun Dun is its own story and completely Miéville. Un Lun Dun is a fantastic story, which while it’s classed YA, is also suitable to the more mature MG reader, however parents might want to check beforehand whether they think their child is ready for the book. In any case Un Lun Dun is not just must read Miéville, but also must read YA fantasy.


2 thoughts on “China Miéville – Un Lun Dun”

  1. I'm really glad you enjoyed this one. I was pretty impressed with it when I read it last year. Maybe it wasn't the best introduction to Mieville's work (or so people tell me, anyway), but I still enjoyed it immensely, especially the wordplay and the feeling of whimsical fantasy while still maintaining a darker tone to the story itself. I definitely think that more people should read this as a great example of just how engaging and meaningful YA fantasy can be! It isn't all paranormal romance with werewolves and vampires, after all!

  2. I'd argue that it would be a good introduction to his work, as it's more accessible than some of his more complex adult novels (such as Embassytown)and perhaps the idea would be less intimidating ;-)

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