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.