|Submitted by Chris O\'Neill |
(Sep 14, 2009)
I will admit, I am normally a huge China Mieville fan. Perdido Street Station, The Scar, Iron Council and even Unlundun appealed in their grimy, ornate and decadent steam-punk fashion.
The City and the City initially intrigued me - a presumably Balkan city (presumably somewhere like Sarajevo, where East meets West, where Christianity meets Islam etc etc.) has the added complexity of having another city - sharing its own location.
At some point in the murky past, these cities had a common progenitor - but something murky/catastrophic happened and this city was split into Beszel and Ul Qoma and developed differently. They have a strained relationship, with rigid rules about 'noticing' the other city that shares their space. Overseen by 'Breach'; a mysterious police/enforcement body which subjectively observes the rules and keeps the cities separate.
I will also admit that I am not a detective/crime novel fan. This very clearly falls into that category - much more than the steampunk novels of China's back catalogue. While the world is very nicely built, and the characterisation strong, I found the pace plodding as it crossed familiar crime novel territory and slowly revealed the plot, protagonist, potential villains etc.
I kept on waiting for more to be revealed about the past of Beszel/Ul Qoma. Why is it split? Is Ul Qoma only accessible through Beszel, or does it sit in a completely alternate world? What are the mysterious artefacts dug up by the archaeologists in Ul Qoma? Of course one of China Mieville's strength's as an author is that he leaves you wanting more. Unfortunately, after the unsatisfying conclusion/resolution to this book, I didn't really want to know more.
On the whole, a disappointing book for fans of the world of Perdido Street Station or The Scar - and leaves little for those who might be picking it up his books for the first time.