Friday 9 April 2010

Un Lun Dun by China Mieville

Pages - 521

Challenges - Support Your Local Library Challenge, Young Adult Challenge and Once Upon a Time Challenge

Published in 2008 by Macmillan Children's Books.

In an unremarkable room, in a nondescript building, a man sat working on very non-descript theories.

The man was surrounded by bright chemicals in bottles and flasks, charts and gauges, and piles of books like battlements around him. He propped them open on each other. He cross-referred them, seeming to read several at the same time; he pondered, made notes, crossed the notes, went hunting for facts of history , chemistry and geography.

Un Lun Dun is a young adult fantasy set in an alternate London. The book begins with two young girls called Zanna and Deena noticing a change in their normal reality. Things seem to be watching them and following them. They cannot control their curiosity any more and they follow a spying broken umbrella down into a basement, where they find an entrance to Un Lun Dun. Un Lun Dun is an unusual mirror image of London, but with some very strange inhabitants and buildings. Zanna discovers that she is supposed to be the chosen one to help save Un Lun Dun from the Smog, an evil cloud of pollution based on the real smog of the 1950's. However, Zanna's role as the chosen one is short lived and Deena steps forward to help to save Un Lun Dun from the evil Smog.

For some reason and I have absolutely no idea why, this book seemed to take forever to read. It wasn't boring or full of difficult passages that needed to be thought over. It wasn't even an adult book. I think the reason it took so long, was because the book basically took London, turned it upside down, shook it around a bit and made the impossible possible. Thus taking longer to absorb as I tried to make out and visualise London's alter ego, Un Lun Dun. The book concentrated so much on the setting, that I felt quite lost as to what was going on in the beginning. At over 500 pages, it took the first 100 to set the scenery and character descriptions straight in my head, before I then hungrily devoured the story. After that I really loved it, but it did take a long time to read.

Some of the characters were just so unbelievable that they were believable. My favourite were the binja's, which were ninja bins. I want one as a bodyguard. It was almost as if Mieville let his imagination get carried away and wrote down everything that came to mind and put it all in the book. I got confused at the beginning as the story seemed to be following Zanna as the main character, only to find a quarter way through that Deeba was actually the main character and Zanna no longer even featured in the book.

Deeba is a very strong main character and doesn't seem to lose her nerve or suffer from fear or disillusionment. A lot of the other characters appeared to be nondescript and I found I had no feeling for them. The only ones I liked were the cute Utterlings, who came into being by the sound of a voice.

The descriptions of Un Lun Dun were amazing and rather hilarious. They would definitely make good visuals in a film production of the book. The book has rather a dark storyline and I found a couple of bits in it quite sad when innocent creatures died - I really am a woose. It reminded me a little of Alice in Wonderland,as the story is full of nonsensical characters and settings and I have to admit that this type of book would not normally attract my interest.

This book has been compared to the J.K Rowling books, but I really couldn't see the connection. A friend of mine mentioned that it sounded similar to Neil Gaiman's 'Neverwhere', but as I haven't read it, I can't comment. I understand Mieville to be a great adult fiction writer, so I will definitely look out for more of his books.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book once I got into it, so I would recommend it highly and advise you persevere through the first hundred or so pages until Deena goes back to Un Lun Dun, then the story really takes off. The first part with Zanna in the role of Chosen One did leave me feeling like it was a false start, but after that I loved it.


  1. Yes! It took me until Deeba's return to get into it as well. The first hundred pages were very slow going, but by the end I could see why they were there.

    The book IS similar to Neverwhere, but I enjoyed Neverwhere more. I'd definitely recommend that one to you!

  2. This sounds like an interesting read. I haven't read a book before where the author decived me about who really was the main character :) It's good that you let people know that the action starts after a 100 pages, at least for me as that is usually around the time I decide wether or not to put down the book.

    Great review, Vivienne! Enjoy your weekend :)

  3. After I read this I was recommended Neverwhere which is a great read. Neverwhere has much more familiar London landmarks, and is written by the gorgeous Neil Gaiman so you can't go wrong.

  4. Ever since my friend Terry read this a little while back, I've been itching to read this book! And now so many of the rest of you are. :D I'm glad to see so many people reading it.

  5. that does sound great, i've got 'the city and the city' on my TBR list, but finding it very hard to get my hands on in Aus!

  6. I read Nymeth's review of this book not long ago and I found it interesting. I will keep an eye on it. Thanks for your review!

  7. It's always good to know when a book is worth sticking with. Thanks for a great review!

  8. It sounds pretty confusing. I don't know if I'd have the patience for it, but I'm glad that it was worthwhile in the end.

  9. I have a tendency to give up on books fast..but, if you would tell me to hang in there I would

  10. Nymeth - Neverwhere is now on my list. I trust your judgement.

    Ladybug - this book is definitely worth a read.

    Katrina - it is now on my list.

    Amanda - you must read it. They say it is similar to Harry Potter, but I couldn't see it myself.

    Mummazappa -thanks for giving me another book to look for.

    Andreea - my pleasure.

    Kathy - thank you.

    Alyce - It does require a little patience to read it.

    Blodeuedd - knowing how much you enjoy fantasy, I think you may enjoy it.

  11. This sounds a bit different from my typical read but I keep hearing such great things about it that I just have to add it to my list. Glad to hear you loved it!

  12. This one keeps catching my eye! I really should get it from the library soon. :)

  13. This sounds like a great book! I gave you an award:

    Hope your weekend away was great fun.

  14. A comparison to NEVERWHERE is much closer. This work is nowhere close to Tolkien's. When I read it, I didn't like it. Gaiman's story was much, much better.

  15. I have this book as well. I've had it for awhile, and haven't gotten around to it. I'm a bit sad that people have said it's similar to Neverwhere except not as good. Because I recently read Neverwhere and ADORED it. I worry that Un Lun Dun will be constantly compared to Neverwhere when I do get around to reading it :(


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