Another Miéville, this time – YA. Well, if YA is 15 and up, then I’d say – this is middle grade. A highly enjoyable one, though. I’ve read it recently and it was great fun, but I’d happily recommend it to a smart 8 year old.
UnLondon, is, well, a place, a distorted version of London, a crazy Wonderland (Lewis Carroll is the most obvious inspiration here) hidden underneath one of world’s greatest cities. And there is a crisis. The Big Bad wants to conquer and subjugate UnLondon, and only the Chosen One can stop him. Only not this time. This time, it will be (it’s for kids, of course it ends relatively well, so it’s not really a spoilter) Chosen One’s sidekick that saves the day. And a pretty opinionated one:
‘I know you’re not a sidekick.’
‘No one is!’ Deeba shouted. ‘That’s no way to talk about anyone! To say they’re just hangers-on to someone more important.‘
So, a noble sentiment and a good example for underage readers to follow. Deeba, the not-sidekick, is a brave and resourceful girl, and with a pack of friends she undertakes the mission to save UnLondon from the evil Smog, helped by evil politicians from both the London above and under.
Oh, there is a clumsy environmental message, as usually in Miéville’s novels. And a bit of left-wing politics, but it is Miéville, after all.
Anyway, the team consist of Deeba herself (“the UnChosen”), her pet milk carton (no, really!) Curdle, half-ghost Hemi and a few weird but nice characters.The villains, equally unusual, include the lord of broken umbrellas – the kind commonly found in UnLondon, because it is a place for things and people discarded and unwanted.
Worldbuilding, as usual, is where Miéville is at his best. In Un Lun Dun we have predatory, carnivorous giraffes, living words, indoor jungles, ninja trash cans, talking books… it’s a book for readers with imagination, not afraid to wonder away from usual fantasy tropes. Language is a little easier than in Miéville’s novels aimed at older readers, but not dumbed down, just less flowery.
Not everything is perfect, of course. The ending is a bit Deus ex Machina, and sometimes the author is carried away by his imagination, having no control over it. He will get better at structuring his novels, although I’m yet to see Miéville’s book with a truly great ending.
It’s not my favourite Miéville, Railsea is, but it’s a great book and a good Miéville starter for younger audience.