What can I say? This book rocks. Whoever thought umbrellas could be so devastating?
If you've got kids old enough to be thoroughly familiar with Harry Potter and other children's/YA fantasy novels that deal with various genre standbys such as prophecies, chosen ones, quests, imperiled worlds, Good vs Evil, etc, then I recommend China Mieville's Un Lun Dun because despite some minor pacing issues, it takes all those cliched standbys and completely subverts them in a most enjoyable way. Plus he makes some points about blindly bowing to authority, prejudice, self-determination, and why it is more important to choose to save the world than to be chosen that kids (or anyone really) can't hear too often.
I was a little worried by the fact that Mieville's latest is a foray into "children's" fiction, but I needn't have. This is an excellent book, and destined to be a classic of young people's fiction. It really is that good.
It does owe a definite debt (acknowledged) to Neil Gaiman's 'Neverwhere' - and it also reminded me of The Phantom Tollbooth (which comparison I am not positive is completely relevant, since I haven't read that since I was a kid) - but I got a similar feeling from it.
Pretty, blond Zanna and her buddy, the darker, shorter Deeba (I'm assuming she's of Indian descent, but it's never directly stated), are a couple of British schoolgirls who have been encountering a bunch of strange events lately. Staring animals, odd attentions, animated umbrellas, and total strangers approaching Zanna, saying they're thrilled as can be to meet the Shwazzy. (It takes a French class for them to figure that one out).
Soon the two girls are mysteriously transported to Un Lun Dun, a bizarre alternate version of London, where Zanna is asked to help defeat the evil Smog that is taking over the city...
But things don't work out quite as the prophecies had predicted...
In this book, Mieville totally succeeds in subverting sterotypes, making political and environmental statements, and giving quite a lot of social commentary - without being annoying or preachy AT ALL. Which is really a pretty amazing feat. On top of that, the story is clever, witty, entertaining, and definitely can be enjoyed by readers of all ages. It's not nearly as challenging in the violent-and-disgusting departments as his other books, but it's definitely recognizably Mieville - and actually quite spooky, at times.
This was a wonderful book filled with quirky and interesting characters. I liked how Mieville played with descriptions and turned London into UnLondon. I especially admired Deeba's courage and her insistence that sometimes prophecies may not come true exactly as written.