[Old blog rerun] Review: Un Lun Dun

I found a way to recover part of my old blog content, so I decided to rerun some posts from that, mainly reviews of books I liked. The following review was first published in October 2008. (All tagging is new, and I’m afraid I don’t have any means of saving the old blog comments.)

***

coverThe book: China Miéville, Un Lun Dun

The story: in a parallel world, UnLondon is in danger. This is the story of how a girl discovers about it and finds out that, while it’s not her destiny, it is up to her to save both worlds.

What I liked: racing through an adventure full of imaginative and fantastic twists and turns and characters and setting; some really wily, almost wicked playing with words; and I also like the continuously changing imaginative settings, tapping into all the fantasy worlds ever created and adding some new.

What I didn’t like: much too similar to just a YA version of Gaiman’s Neverwhere. Also, I’m starting to be wary of novels with too young/teenage protagonists; it was fine in Michael Ende’s books (and again, maybe that was just because I first read them as a child), but I hated it in Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart, and it disturbed me here: I mean, a girl crosses over to a parallel world and she tries to call her parents on her mobile phone? How absurd is that? Come on!

A favourite setting: I know most bibliophiles would say it’s the Wordhoard Pit, with its neverending shelves of “everything ever written or lost” and its “bookaneers” librarians that go on research expeditions, looking for books, as if they were climbing the Everest.

She was straddling the rim of an enormous tower. It was a cylinder, at least a hundred feet in diameter, hollow and book-lined. Outside, bricks went down the height of countless floors past small clouds and flocking bats to UnLondon’s streets. Inside, it was ringed with the bookshelves she had climbed.
[…]
‘You’re a traveller? You came by storyladder? My goodness. It’s been years since we’ve had an explorer. It’s not an easy journey after all. Still, you know what they say: “All bookshelves lead to the Wordhoard Pit.” And here you are.’

But there were a couple of other places that were just as intriguing. One is the forest-in-a-house:

It was hard to make out the details of the inside of the house because everywhere around them, filling it, were plants. The carpet and the floorboards were rucked with lichen, moss, ferns and undergrowth. Ivy clotted the walls. The corridor was full of trees. […] Light shone greenly through leaves from a bulb Deeba glimpsed hanging from the ceiling.

But the one I liked the most was probably the Roofdom, a landscape of roofs and chimneys where the Slaterunners live without ever touching ground, somehow recalling the roof scene in Mary Poppins (click here).

A favourite character: those who have read the book through will not agree, but I was completely fascinated by the Unbrellissimo. Completely. At his first appearance. (Then I was not so sure). And I loved — LOVED — the rebrella. (OK, you’ll have to read the book if you want to see why, I don’t want to add any big spoilers).

A favourite quote: I found this just brilliant, but again, you won’t see how good it is without the rest of the story, and it may be some kind of spoiler too, so beware. (If you still want to read this through, you have to know that an utterling is a word that has taken physical shape when spoken. This particular utterling has a human shape, but with four arms, four legs and several eyes.)

‘You got spoke before I got here. What are you?’ The man sketched shapes in the air.
Deeba shook her head. ‘What is it…? Paraffin? Paintbrush? Purpose?’
The utterling shook its mouthless head.
‘Redcurrant?’ said Hemi. ‘Blackjack?’
No, it mimed.
‘Quiddity?’ said the book.
‘Sesquipedalian? Oh, this is ridiculous! We’re never going to guess like this. Out of all the words in the whole language, how–‘
‘Cauldron,’ Deeba said, looking at the utterling with her head on one side. It jumped up and down and nodded and threw up its four arms and spun in a jig.
Hemi stared at Deeba in open-mouthed delight.
‘How could you possibly tell?’ the book said.
‘I dunno.’ Deeba shrugged airily. ‘Doesn’t it look like the world cauldron to you?’

Rating: 8.5/10

Read this if: if you liked Neverending Story (the book, not the movie) and Neverwhere. Definitely read this if you have any interest in fantasy.

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