Cover Photo: Elisa Lazo Valdez/Arcangel Images
Publishing Date: 7 May 2010
On the cover:
Deep in the research wing of the Natural History Museum is a prize specimen, something that comes along much less often than once in a lifetime: a perfect, and perfectly preserved, giant squid. But what does it mean when the creature suddenly and impossibly disappears?
For curator Billy Harrow it's the start of a headlong pitch into a London of warring cults, surreal magic, apostates and assassins. It might just be that the creature he's been preserving is more than a biological rarity: there are those who are sure it's a god.
A god that someone is hoping will end the world.
This is urban fantasy. Or to be specific, what urban fantasy was during the nineties, before it somehow got usurped to define something that even its fans have problems differentiating from paranormal romance.
Miéville does cities very well, and he does the London of this story excellently. The world building is great, this London seems alive and breathing, and it is well realized enough that it doesn't take much suspension of disbelief to see that it could be this way.
There are a lot of religious cults in this book, and some readers may find that these are a bit of a stretch. But you don't actually have to plow too deep into the myriad of religions that exist today to find out that they are entirely plausible. Some of them are even pretty close to what is out there in our world.
The organizations that Miéville populates his London with are also well within the reasonable. I especially liked the FSRC, and have no problem seeing that such a unit could exist even in our world.
The book begins with events that seem normal enough, but the strangeness start before the first chapter is finished. And from there on its a journey into a weird and slightly askew London that is well worth a visit.
We also quickly get to know most of the principal characters, and they are for the most part excellent company throughout the story.
There was one exception from this for me , Marge. She seems to be far to normal to take things in her stride the way she does. And this grated on me for parts of the book.
I also found Billy Harrow a bit to diffuse at times, he seems to both deny what is happening, and be fine with everything at different parts of the story. And I felt the switch in his character to more active towards the end of the story was more of a plot necessity than natural progression of him as a character.
These are however minor points, the setting and characters serve the story well. And Miéville does both of these parts of the novel expertly.
So to what I found as a strength in The City & The City (review here), the prose, and Miéville's use of it.
It just does not work here. Technically it is excellent, as always with Miéville, but it does not serve the story, rather it detracts from it. At times it seems as the author uses his grasp of the English language to confuse the reader, and make it harder for him/her to understand what is going on.
Several times there are long and unnecessary complicated passages that slows down the action. And this got on my nerve several times, and it really made it hard for me to keep reading at times. That these long passages are largely absent when there is more happening, and never really adds anything to the story, also made them feel a bit like padding.
Miéville's tendency to write literary fiction prose just doesn't fit with keeping a reader present in a fantasy setting, in my opinion. His obfuscating prose style really did this story a disservice. And I found myself wishing, at several points, that he had written this in the same style as Un Lun Dun, and saved his obvious literary fiction aspirations to when he is actually writing a literary fiction novel.
I have to say that I was actually pleasantly surprised with how good this story was after my experience with The City & the City, but at the same time I felt that Miéville has come full circle, and is now back where he was in Perdido Street Station. I am hoping that his next book will be as good as The Scar, my favourite book of his so far.
If you are a fan of the urban fantasy that is represented by books like Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, you should find this an excellent read.
And if you happen to be a fan of the UF wing of urban fantasy, I urge you to read this, and see what we who read urban fantasy in the 1990s think about when we hear the name.
Reviews: The City & the City
LINKS: China Miéville Macmillan