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Un Lun Dun    by China Miéville order for
Un Lun Dun
by China Miéville
Order:  USA  Can
Del Rey, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Readers may ask when first spotting the book, what is Un Lun Dun? It is a magnificent and intriguing story, superbly composed by China Miéville. It is a place in London, an urban land of strange delights where lost and broken things, as well as people enter. Perhaps considered by some an alternate, abnormal world, it's yet a normal place to those who live there, i.e. in UnLondon.

The existence of UnLondon is not generally known, nor is it easy to travel there, especially if an attempt were made to apply the cliché as the crow flies. Yet avians exist, along with jungle animals (bloodthirsty, street-travelling giraffes among them), and items of everyday use, along with oddities like live attacking garbage, buildings constructed of typewriters or 'dead televisions' and other incongruous materials, leaning against each other, some with windows, some without. The cast of Miéville's engrossing story includes heroes and heroines, and most certainly threatening villains - be it animal, vegetable, or mineral - lurking around corners and behind doors. There's an expansive bridge that goes nowhere and ends somewhere, and flying buses, some with legs! Be prepared for a deliciously bizarre, ferociously absorbing read, chock-full of contraptions, delights, and beguiling contortions. Though a lengthy read that requires several sittings, the reader will be antsy to get back to it time and again.

UnLondon is a city filled with unbrellas, broken, tattered, discarded and controlled by a boss, In the gray sky is the UnSun and the Loon. A talking book lives with the Propheseers, who dwell on the aforesaid lengthy bridge. Their security guards are the binjas, metal rubbish bins with arms and legs, plus eyes peeking out of the darkness of the tilted cover. UnLondon is the home of ghosts (one in particular is half and half, that is, half ghost and half not). It's also the residence of Simon Atramenti, the inkwell-headed person, who writes 'For clients who insist on bespoke copy'. Obaday Fing is a tailor with a mammoth pincushion head, and his clothing designs are made from pages of books. You see - words in UnLondon are alive, taking different shapes and forms. The most threatening is a very dark cloud, 'SMOG' (expansively created by villains), that wants to rule the world, and burn it too, along with all the books!

The city of Un Lun Dun has been waiting for its heroine, the Schwazzy (Chosen One), as written in the ancient talking book, and propounded by many generations of Propheseers. The story begins in London, with a fox watching children romp in school playground games, its vulpine gaze directed at one in particular, Zanna, and noted by her friend Deeba. This isn't the first incident of an animal bowing to Zanna. Odd, puzzling events have been occurring since autumn, when a woman in a bus driver's uniform walked up to Zanna and Deeba in a café with the greeting, 'Sorry to butt in ... Just very exciting to meet you ... Shwazzy!' As Zanna and Deeba follow a discarded, moving umbrella, they find a secret entrance to a strange city, and leave London behind. They pass 'a cloud of bees in the shape of a man, a bear in a suit, and a gnostechnician who checks travel reports on the undernet'.

Zanna and Deeba are befriended by many in UnLondon and attempt to assist its citizens. But Zanna is overtaken by the Smog, and they're transported to London. Deeba searches for a way back, and 'snippets of sentences' on a glove send her to climb shelves in the library, to find UnLondon 'below and all around her'. Deeba's strenuous odyssey involves a search for the most important element in schwazzying, a search that becomes monstrous (literally). The Unbrellissimo, a tall, spindly man in a dark suit, encourages citizens to use unbrellas for protection against the Smog. Amongst those who come to help Deeba are binjas, who 'twirl their nunchucks and their staffs, somersaulting, and spinning kicks'. Once, Deeba and friends are arrested for 'Unlicensed Speaking ... A Serious Offense in the Talklands', and face trial before an enormous-mouthed man, seated on a throne loudly voicing utterlings. These are just some of the wondrous escapades readers can expect in Un Lun Dun.

China Miéville says of his first name that his parents 'liked the sound of China, and also the fact that it means 'friend' in Cockney rhyming slang - you still sometimes hear people call each other 'my old china' meaning 'my mate'.' Un Lun Dun, his first YA story, is fast-paced, with non-stop action and suspense. It reveals a world full of marvels, monsters, and magical moments and especially unexpected heroism, with an underlying commentary on social and environmental issues. Don't miss it!

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