Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Un Lun Dun


Un Lun Dun is China Mieville's latest novel, his first foray into that increasingly misnamed genre called "young adult", and one of the most intelligent approaches to the well-worn path of adventure and fantasy.

Un Lun Dun is the Un-Eragon and Un-Harry Potter. It takes the tried (tired) and tested cliches of fantasy and subverts them. Yes there is a heroine, and yes she is prophesied, the "Chosen One". Unfortunately, it all goes pear-shaped from there - the Chosen One gets knocked out of action early in the book, the wise sages and guides have no wisdom to offer, and the sidekick (whom the prophecies refer to as the comic relief) suddenly finds herself bearing the burden of the quest. Even the traditional form of the epic quest is stood on its head when our un-Chosen One decides to dispense with the 7 tasks and just skip ahead to the last one.

In other words, Un Lun Dun is a refreshing change. It keeps enough of the old (there is, after all, a happy ending, and un-Chosen or not, our heroine still saves the day) but plays with the conventions in an intelligent and sensitive manner. Like Neverwhere, the city of London also features as a character in its own right, idiosyncrasies, peculiarities, warts and all. Mieville certainly has a way of describing his cities, but whereas Perdido Street Station was grotesque in detail, Un Lun Dun takes a softer focus approach.

All in all, a good read, and definitely recommended. Ignore the "young adult" label: how many of these books are read by young adults anyway?

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