Friday, 27 November 2015

Book Review: The City & The City by China Mieville

Ever since I read China Mieville's Embassytown I've been hesitant to read another of his books. It was such a unique and important novel that I didn't know what to make of it. I know I loved it, but I had never read anything like it before. I needed time to digest it.

Well, I have finally read another of China Mieville's works. The novel is called The City & The City, and it is definitely a Mieville novel.

The City & The City was written before Embassytown. This is the novel that finally won China Mieville the Hugo award. Unfortunately he had to share the award with Paolo Bacigalupi's long, drawn-out Biopunk novel Windup Girl. I won't get started on that one. Yet.

The City & The City was the start of something new for Mr. Mieville. Previous to this he wrote books that fit more easily into the Fantasy genre. But at the same time he was never like all the Tolkien imitators out there. His earlier works can be described as a more complex and sprawling version of what Neil Gaiman is known for. What I like about him is that he recognizes the true definition of Fantasy; a genre that can do pretty much anything. Why limit oneself to medevil sec-worlds? 

This is a novel that does the impossible and expects us to go with it. And this I love. Like Embassytown it's written from the first-person perspective of the main character because doing otherwise just wouldn't work. The City & The City is the story of Detective Borlu investigating a crime that happened in his city, which just so happens to occupy the same space as another city. To sneak into the other city or look through the mysterious veil into the other city is considered a crime, which is then handled by Breach. What is Breach? Something. A force, an entity, or group, something alien? That's the mystery.

It is clear that the author loves to mix genres. This book is part crime thriller, part science-fiction, and part fantasy. The writing is also more sparse than his earlier works. You don't get bogged down by overly descriptive prose, instead you get a smooth, clear reading experience. The characters are all intriguing but a bit stilted, although I've come to realize that's part of the authors style. I was also expecting some sort of romance to happen between Borlu and partner, but it never happened. And I'm glad, because that would have been too predictable.

After Embassy town and now The City & The City, I have concluded that it is not fair to call China Mieville a fantasy novelist. His works go beyond mere fantasy. China Mieville is a Surrealist, plain and simple. He has exceeded expectations and keeps going. He's so good that he presents us the impossible in the most tangible way he can. I can't just recommend this one novel, I have to recommend them all. There's nothing like them. 

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