Wednesday, June 3, 2009

REVIEW: The City and The City, by China Miéville

The City and The City, by China Miéville. Published 2009 by Ballantine Books/Random House. Science Fiction.

Regular readers of my blog know that while I'll occasionally read a thriller or police procedural, science fiction isn't really my beat. When I originally lucked into a galley of The City and The City, British "New Weird" writer China Miéville's latest, I passed it on to my husband, a big science fiction fan and a fan of Miéville's past work. I even asked him to do a guest review, but he raved about it so much that I had to check it out for myself.

Glad I did. The City and The City is an original, spellbinding story. Tyador Borlu, inspector in the Extreme Crime Squad of the city-state of Beszel, is assigned to investigate the murder of a young woman. After unsuccessfully trying to pass the case off to another agency, Borlu must unravel the crime while walking a delicate tightrope of law, etiquette and diplomacy between Beszel and its sister city-state, Ul Qoma.

More than this is difficult to say in a review because so much of the pleasure of The City and The City is uncovering this relationship and understanding how it impacts the (somewhat standard) plot. The reader is aided in no small measure by Miéville's sharp, clean prose. I've never read Miéville before, but nearly everything I've read about him suggests that The City and The City represents a stylistic departure for him, from more the elaborate, Victorian style of his previous novels and from a young adult orientation. In fact I wouldn't so much call The City and The City science fiction as I would some kind of contemporary urban fantasy, albeit without the standard paranormal accoutrement of witches or ghosts. Instead, Miéville has created a new kind of paranormal.

One thing that really impressed me about Miéville's writing was the amount of emotional empathy he creates between the reader and Borlu. At a certain point in the narrative, the murder victim's parents come to Beszel to identify the body and aid in the investigation. Now, here are two characters- outsiders- who, on the surface, might seem like the reader surrogates. Borlu is assigned to take care of them but they are overwhelmed- foreigners, like the reader, trying to understand this place and navigate its arcane rules and remorseless justice. But when they cross a line, rather than sympathize with them, I found myself just as frustrated as Borlu. It was then that I realized how fully I had internalized Borlu's point of view, his perspective. Mieville made the people with whom I had most in common alien to me. It's a neat trick.

I think The City and The City will appeal to many kinds of readers- science fiction fans and detective-novel readers looking for something new will appreciate its interesting premise, and literary fiction readers will appreciate Miéville's skill and the opportunity to dabble in beautifully written genre fiction. It's not a young adult novel per se but I'll bet certain kinds of adventurous older teens would enjoy it as well. I don't know if I'm going to go back for his earlier works, but I will absolutely be on the lookout for what comes next from this fascinating writer.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.


Anonymous said...

Good review! Wish I could hear him speak also. He has such an unusual imagination. It ought to be a very interesting experience!

Anonymous said...

This looks great. I'm going to give it a try thanks to your compelling review!

bermudaonion said...

This sounds interesting. I just might have to read it after your great review.

Meytal Radzinski said...

Usually, the term "weird fiction" is enough to raise my eyebrows and make me follow the link.

LorMil said...

Great review, Marie!

Zibilee said...

Great review! I loved Perdido Street Station by Mievelle, and think it would be interesting to read this as it differs so much from his usual style. I think as an author he has great talent.

Ana S. said...

Fabulous review, Marie! I am so looking forward to this book.

Unknown said...

I for one am a huge fan of Mieville's work. He originally started his career writing on Marxist philosophy as it applies to international law. And this, is the underpinning of most of his fantastical work. As boring as that may sound, it works spectacularly. Whether it be in the highly implausible and wholly alien world of New Crobuzon, which was the setting of his former books, or in the mostly plausible setting of Beszel/Ul Qoma, the political settings of his books add a sense of reality that many authors today lack. I just finished The City and The City, and let me note, brushing up on your philosophy, political science, history, international law and modern culture is highly recommended. He adds these references that give "ah ha!" moments that are rather refreshing.