Un Lun Dun by China Miéville
Brief Summary: The Schwazzy was chosen to save UnLunDun, a mixed-up alternate version of London, from the ever-growing evil of the Smog. But what happens when the prophecies are all wrong?
The Tsundoku Scale: Middle of the Pile, 4 out of 10.
The Good: The idea of the book—a prophecy that doesn’t work—is enticing. Often fantasy gets too wrapped up in the all-mighty lore of what’s been foretold, and it was refreshing to read a book where the “chosen one” is incompetent, and the prophecy is not just misunderstood but actually, truly unreliable. Though the story still revolves around a quest to save a world, the rules have been thrown away and anything can happen—especially to umbrellas. I do not know where or how Miéville got obsessed with umbrellas, but they are everywhere, from umbrellas, to unbrellas (broken umbrellas), to rebrellas (unbroken broken umbrellas), and I loved the creativity. My favorite quote from the book is:
“‘My dad hates umbrellas”, said Deeba, swinging her own. “When it rains he always says the same thing: ‘I do not believe the presence of moisture in the air is sufficient reason to overturn society’s usual sensible taboo against wielding spiked cubs at eye-level.’”
The Bad: This book is basically The Phantom Tollbooth 2.0, and that is not a good thing. Like The Phantom Tollbooth, Un Lun Dun is full of the same puns and wordplay from brutal concoctions like Binjas (bins+ninjas) who protect a magical bridge, to subtler, more amusing ones such as the slate runners who live on roofs without ever touching the ground… but are much closer to the ground than one might think. Regardless, there’s a point when a story has to become a story, and not just a glorified excuse to use the English language. A pun is a frustrating tool, and the only time they ever get a laugh from me is when they’re from an autocorrect slip-up on an iphone. However, the bigger problem with this story is the inconsistency of the approach to prophecy. In one sense, the story’s whole motivation is that the prophecy is wrong and incompetent and that someone who has courage and heart can trump expectations, and yet for the majority of the book characters continue to follow the prophecy. One minute they’ll say it’s wrong, delusional, and nonsensical and the next they are trekking down a danger-filled road in hopes of finding a weapon from the prophecy’s unreliable lore. I’ve already read one prior book by Miéville called Kraken, and it was all the philosophical twists, terrific word-play, and zany characters that Un Lun Dun wasn’t. Yes, Un Lun Dun was for a younger audience and yes it had its moments, but it is certainly not Miéville’s best book, and I have certainly read much better young adult fiction.