Tag: hero’s journey

Un Lun Dun

China Mieville's UnLunDunn


I know a few people who got English degrees. These acquaintances were endlessly gushing over China Miéville’s works a few years ago. I understand why now, and wish I had gotten around to reading some works of his much earlier, because Un Lun Dun is amazing!

There are three main elements as to why I found it so appealing: the plot structure, the feel of Un Lunn Dunn’s world, and the characters, especially the protagonists from London.

I clicked with the characters far more than I expected to. At first the characters felt a bit flat, but I quickly forgot that and was engaged and following along with the characters. Thinking back on this, much more is shown than told about the characters, and so even though it did not feel like the characters had been fleshed out because we were told less about them than the protagonists, I actually knew a lot more about the characters than I thought I did.

The plot starts off light and ramps up quickly, throwing Zanna and Deeba into the world of Un Lun Dun, where they find themselves drawn into the orbit of an ancient prophecy known to almost all UnLunDuners. This part is delightful, for even as prophecies are a fairly cliché plot device, the various characters’ reaction to meeting the Chosen One is generally delightful and revealing, and the world revealed along the way is eccentrically marvelous. The characters infuse the prophecy with meaning, such that it becomes more than just a sterile outline. UnLunDun is a realm fundamentally similar to yet different from London, and the delight is in how something so fundamentally different can feel so delightfully Londonish. (Note: I’ve not spent much time there, so I probably have a low bar for authenticity.) No matter how surreal or bizarre a scene Mievielle serves up, it is always feels believable, as well as vivid and breathtaking.

And then, as the book jacket says, things begin to go shockingly wrong. And this is where the story roars up to full speed. With the introduction and buildup we have had so far, not only can we dive straight into drama and action and confrontation, but we’re invested in the characters and setting so it’s more meaningful.

Again. UnLunDun. Amazing.



The Five Elements

TheFiveElements.jpg*(I couldn’t find a back cover, so I took the official description I could find and pasted it on black.)

The Five Elements is a totally functional book. It was exciting at points, and kept me reading to see what happened, and there were some neat scenes and ideas scattered through, but at the end I felt it had been a decent experience, rather than an unforgettable one.

The characters sometimes felt rather flat: it was mostly fine, but since the characters all had one main facet and little else, after that was initially developed, it got somewhat less interesting. This was also an especially large problem with the villains, who had limited motivations aside from wanting unlimited power.

Unfortunately, while the plot and world started out feeling promising, after the first half both descended into a state of eh. Norwynne was great, and the world of that city was really interesting, especially with the Undercity and all. Then the story left the city for the wilds. The tech-magic stuff was intriguing and promising: for a while it seemed like the details of the encorder and attunement system would be important to the plot. In the full scheme of things, while theoretically that knowledge should be important, it was not particularly well woven into the story. I never felt like magical events really were totally sensible given our knowledge of the world. Instead, it felt like something happened and Aaron or a villain explained how/why it did in context of the world. Additionally, there were some gaping holes in the villains’ various plans, and as those come to light in the later half, it throws a dash of cold water on the immersion. I will say the mystery and confusion around some of the villains kept me distracted until the very climax. However, at the end I was bummed out by the revelation of what the Fifth Element is. The Fifth Element feels like something that is pretty prone to tropeing, so if you use it, you want to make it something special rather than something eh.

I probably will get the sequel (The Nullification Engine) on the Kindle, but if I do, it will be out of interest in the plot, structure, and worldbuilding aspects rather than a particular interest in the plot or characters. (Okay, maybe I am interested in the relationships between Ensel Re, Serena, and Aaron, but that’s really not the main motivator.) Since the Five Elements was first published in 2010, while the Nullification Engine was published in 2013, it will be interesting to see whether the authors’ style has changed.

OBLIGATORY KINDLE NOTE: I kindled this. On a Kindle.

COVER ART REVIEW: It’s rather… abstract? Conveys the theme, if little else. But very shiny!