Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Un Lun Dun by China Miéville - review

I found an interview with China Miéville on YouTube in which he describes Un Lun Dun as falling within the tradition of the unexpected journey / heroic quest book. This is definitely true - substitute a dank boiler room for an ornate wardrobe or a rabbit hole (hello up there!), and you're on your way. Fans of books like that will love Un Lun Dun.

However. Un Lun Dun subverts a whole batch of those tropes, starting with the "Prince of the Blood" thing. Aren't you a little tired of the quiet but beautiful kid inevitably turning out to be something greater once removed from her own context?

In this book, the prophesied Chosen One gets bonked on the head in the first fight and is out of the action. Hey, a surprise! Not only does this make room for a less obvious hero to emerge, but it pitches all the other characters' preconceptions about the coming conflict into a cocked hat. Plus, we the readers don't have to suffer through an endless series of riddling prophesies and seemingly pointless quests whose Real Lessons are revealed Later.

That's all well and good for aficionados of this type of book, who will revel in the classic plot devices turned upside down and shaken like British babies. But I will be shoving this book at all kinds of readers (including adults) - I think that it packs in so many mini-elements of delight and mystery (there's a term for this, and I forget what it is), that any reader will be hooked from page to page. You find this in Suzanne Collins' Gregor the Overlander books, and, most spectacularly, in Harry Potter.

That video is a little disconcerting, isn't it? China Miéville looks like Woody Harrelson in Natural Born Killers.

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