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.
I got this book through Amazon Vine and was really excited to read it. I have been read some of China Mieville's books before (King Rat and Perido Street Station) and liked them. I thought that Mieville's first young adult book would be a wonderful read.
Zanna has been seeing strange things. And when a broken umbrella leads Zanna and her friend Deeba into a boiler room things get really crazy. Zanna and Deeba find themselves in Un Lun Dun; a world more different and dangerous than the London they are familiar with.
This book started out as something exciting and special. After the first chapter I turned to my husband and said "this is going to be an awesome book!" Then somehow the book got less gripping and interesting. Really the first third of this book was not all that exciting. The plot seemed to have a purpose and then wandered off. Zanna ended up being a truly uninspiring character. Her inclusion in the book didn't even make sense with the rest of the story.
About a third of the way into the book things start to pick up. A plot actually develops and the characters have purpose again. Despite the increase in action and direction I still had to push myself through the rest of the book. It never grabbed me and never kept me in suspense. The characters themselves, although creative, came across as two-dimensional. I was sorely disappointed in a book that I was super excited to like. The chapters in the book are very short, a couple pages each in most cases, and were kind of distracting. They would end abruptly with no reason, just to pick up in the next chapter. Maybe this was part of what made it hard for me to get through this book.
The other thing that bothered me was the feeling that this story had been done before. Many aspects to this story are very similar to Clive Barker's Abarat books. Although the tone of this book was a bit darker; and more secluded to the single location of Un Lun Dun. In writing style and setting this book reminded me a lot of Gaiman's Neverwhere. Throw a little bit of Alice in Wonderland into the book and that was the story. The whole time I read this book I kept feeling like I had read this all somewhere before.
There were some very good things about this book. The characters are creative, if a bit flat. Many of the side characters and environments in the book are very tongue in cheek and ironic. There were places that I found myself giggling at the absurdity of the characters. For example the dust bin ninjas (binjas) were a favorite of mine. The craziness of Un Lun Dun is thrown at the reader rapidly with many bizarre sights being described in a non-stop parade of strangeness; these parts of the book also appealed to me.
I think that this book will appeal to a wide range of ages. In fact it would be a good book to read to children. They will enjoy the bizarre characters and their parents will enjoy the tongue in cheek humor that might be lost on younger kids.
Part of the lower review for this book is just the fact that I had trouble enjoying and getting through this book. I also couldn't get past the fact that this book felt a bit like Abarat and Neverwhere had been cobbled together into one read. It's still a good book and if you liked the mentioned books you will probably get some enjoyment from this one. It just didn't hit the mark for me.
My 10 year old son read this book and loved it. It was a great fantasy.