four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
42-Sept-Oct-2009
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0

A-TheCityandtheCityBest known for his trilogy Perdido Street Station, The Scar, and Iron Council ( 4 of 5 Stars Selection Jan/Feb 2005), Miéville's most recent book was Un Lun Dun ( 3.5 of 5 Stars May/June 2007), a fantasy novel for young adults.

The Story: It's a tale of two cities, nothing like London and Paris, but reliably Dickensian. The cities of Beszel and Ul Qoma both exist on Earth, but in the same geographic location in parallel universes. From a young age, the citizens of each city must learn to "unsee" the people and places of the other city; strictly speaking, even knowing of the existence of the opposite city is a crime. Those who unsee inadequately are "disappeared" by the Breach, an omniscient government agency that monitors both worlds. Given the difficulty of simply living in such an environment, imagine investigating a murder there. Yet that is exactly what Miéville's protagonist, a Beszel cop, must do in this fantastic reinvention of the police procedural.
Del Rey. 336 pages. $26. ISBN: 9780345497512

Scifiwire.com 4.5 of 5 Stars
"The City and The City blends numerous influences: the police procedural, the Ruritanian or Orsinian imaginary-country fantasy, the paranoid Cold War novel, Jorge Luis Borges, hard-boiled detective fiction, 1984, Neil Gaiman, Franz Kafka, Philip K. Dick and the conspiracy thriller. It takes enormous talent, intelligence and chutzpah to pull off a genre-bender this ambitious." Cynthia Ward

SF Reviews.net 4.5 of 5 Stars
"The City & the City is China Miéville's best novel since The Scar, and the tightest and most politically observant of his career. ... And it's all upholstered in big ideas-about nationalism, cultural identity, the fear of absolute authority, the perceived threat of borders and their violability, and the overpowering irrationality of xenophobia." Thomas M. Wagner

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Miéville is one of our most talented fabulists, and his work roams boldly across genre, encompassing dark fantasy, science fiction, pulp, horror, Steampunk, Slipstream, Orwellian dystopia and Dickensian social commentary. But Miéville's astonishingly imagined worlds are uniquely his own, and his ability to create intricate, compelling fiction on a grand scale has drawn raves and awards." Denise Hamilton

Onion AV Club 4 of 5 Stars
"[O]nce the story picks up speed, it rarely flags, and the seemingly dry prose is a perfect format for exposition about the novel's central conceit. The relationship between the two locales of the title turns out to be every bit as exciting and imaginative as the geographies found in Miéville's earlier work." Zack Handlen

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"[A]n impressively conceived work depicting twin city-states superimposed on one another like a double exposure. ... Miéville deftly answers questions his intriguing concept raises, and takes the articulation of these responses to far-out conclusions." Kassten Alonso

St. Petersburg Times 4 of 5 Stars
"China Miéville has made his name via award-winning, genre-bending titles such as King Rat, Perdido Street Station, The Scar and Iron Council. Now, in The City & The City, he sets out to bend yet another genre, that of the police procedural, and he succeeds brilliantly." James Reese

Times (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"[A]n eye-opening genre-buster. ... The City & The City could be described as an allegory about the power of political belief, or our ability to see only what we want to see, but the novel is more complex, less abstract and more exciting than that implies." Lisa Tuttle

Critical Summary

Reviewers were overjoyed to read a novel from Miéville that while in many ways breaking with his earlier work, still serves up the same unique blend of fantasy, social consciousness, and a deep and continual consideration of the meaning of cities. What critics praised most was the idea of Bezel and Ul Qoma itself, but also the way Miéville handled it, exploring its many dimensions without letting the metaphor become overbearing. Yet they also appreciated The City & The City as a simple crime novel set in a complex world. While a few reviewers observed some slow sections and a clever but predictable climax, they always noted that the overwhelming originality of the rest of the work makes it a book worth reading.