Sunday, February 2, 2014

REVIEW: The City and The City by China Mieville

The City and the CityThe City and the City by China Miéville
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Format: Audio on Ipod from library
Narrated By: John Lee
Original Publication Year: 2009
Genre(s): Mystery-thriller, Science Fiction
Series: NA
Awards: Hugo Award; Nominated for Nebula Award; Arthur C. Clarke Award; World Fantasy Award; Locus Award; A LOT of others

Recommended Subtitle: The City and The City and The City

My expectations for this novel were very high because of all the awards that were heaped on it as well as the general ravings about China Mieville's talent. As those pesky expectations are apt to do, they contributed to some disappointment with the book. I still thought it was pretty great and had an incredibly unique premise though I struggled with embracing the idea.

My first comment would be that while this book was firmly classified and lauded as science fiction, it feels much more like a mystery/thriller. The science fiction components, while integral, were not supernatural or really even science-y or futuristic. The book is set in two fictional cities/countries called Beszel and Ul Qoma. The two cities and their inhabitants exist in the same physical space in Eastern Europe somewhere but are treated as two separate countries. Citizens are taught from a young age to “unsee” the residents and buildings of the other city. If someone does slip up, and actually sees something from the other city it is called breaching and they risk being set upon by the shadowy and mysterious Breach who wield immense power and police the separation of the two cities. Tyador Borlu, a Beszel policemen, becomes entangled with the crazy relations between the two cities when a women who was a resident of Ul Qoma shows up dead in Beszel. The investigation into her death gets complicated very quickly and seems to be related to the folk tale that there is actually a third city existing in between the City and the City…

It’s an interesting premise and the book succeeded on many levels for me. The mystery is complex and interesting with a satisfying conclusion. I enjoyed that much of story revolved around questions of Anthropology which I find to be really interesting. The pacing was fantastic, clues being revealed with good timing to keep the suspense and mystery building. It was really pretty action packed and while I wasn’t dying to get back to it in between reading times, it is definitely a page turner.

My biggest stumbling block with the book was that I never really bought the premise. Despite how well thought out the idea was, it just always seemed ridiculous and impossible to me. I usually have no problem suspending disbelief but I had trouble here, I think, because it wasn’t fantastical enough. It was just a little too close and grounded in our present reality. That makes sense in my head though I don’t that I’m expressing it well on paper. Basically, I just kept thinking why would anybody put up with that crap - navigating through “unseen” cars in traffic etc… Mieville was likely making political allusions or commentary about racial and cultural segregation in cities or perhaps referencing the Serbs and Croations or other countries where there are racial divides that seem so artificial to outsiders. Or maybe not. I just had trouble embracing the world as it was written.

All that being said it was a really intriguing idea and was pretty fascinating to read about even if it sometimes kicked me out of the story. It must have taken a lot of planning and thinking to figure out all the possible ways the idea could be tripped up and account for them.

Final Verdict: A satisfying and complex mystery/thriller with an intriguing science fiction premise.

This book was pretty universally lauded and adored - anybody else have problems immersing themselves in the concept?

View all my reviews

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