Other Peoples' Work!, Writing!

“Un Lun Dun” by China Mieville

Ever since I was a kid that read that line in Proverbs that said there is nothing new under the sun, I’ve known that the goal of writing should not to be to tell a new story, but to tell an old one in a new way. Charles de Lint taught me that even though I’m young I’ve got a story to tell that belongs to nobody else, one that’s unique to me. It might fit into a lot of other lives but the details, the colors, are all mine.

So I must nod in reverence and appreciation when I find an author that manages to tell an old story that makes it feel new. I just finished a young adult urban fantasy novel by China Mieville of Perdido Street Station fame. I’ve promised my dad for years I’d read that novel, but the last time I tried when I was 14 or so, I couldn’t get past the part when the main heroine, a gigantic BUG LADY, spread her creepy wings in a way that was supposed to be sexual.

OKAY ANYWAY, you know there are certain books that you start to read and even if you can’t get through it, you know it’s fabulous and the author is worthwhile anyway. That’s how I felt about China Mieville, so when I ran across this title at the library and saw that it was for young adults, I thought maybe if I weren’t mature enough for “Perdido Street Station” yet, maybe his other books would draw me in.


Mieville’s power over atmosphere is unlike any other author I know. His settings are characters that are just as important, if not more important, than the living characters themselves. The whole premise of “Un Lun Dun” is based on pollution and on the existence of abcities, which are cities like our own that are built of leftover bits from our world…and vise versa.

Anyway, the story starts by two girls, Zanna and Deeba, experiencing some weird stuff about Zanna being the “chosen one,” or the “Shwazzy” (based on the French word for “chosen,” choisi. CLEVER RIGHT). What is established straight away is that China Mieville is MASTER OF PUNS. From Lost Angeles to Parisn’t to unbrellas (and rebrellas) to binjas (ninjas that take the form of dustbins…DUH) to Hemi the half-ghost, half-human boy from Wraithtown, Mieville had me going “…Huh-hah,” like, A MILLION TIMES. Okay, I’m really not taking this review as seriously as I meant.

What unquestionably impressed me most is the underlying message about…I don’t know, destiny. The reader quickly stops rooting for the “Shwazzy” Zanna straight away, taking pleasure instead in the quiet quips and vulnerable courage of her sidekick Deeba. So when they end up back in London and Zanna lost her memories in a fight, you desperately hope Deeba will get back and receive the credit for becoming UnLondon’s hero that Zanna obviously didn’t deserve. But people don’t instantly come to her side and Deeba must proceed risking her life for a city that doesn’t think she’s the chosen one.

About 300 pages into this 421-page book, we reached the scene when Deeba declares herself unchosen,, and the whole ideology of this story falls into place with a delightful CRASH. Of course the unchosen one would save UnLondon!

Anyway, like, I decided upon the conclusion of the book that it wasn’t like he was telling a new story. He wasn’t trying to. The whole book played off the archetypal “hero saves the city” structure. And it turned it on its head and yet still let it drive the story. Mieville was very aware that it wasn’t a new story and seemed to spend his whole time making sure that it had redeeming qualities. I think this comes easily to him because of how he personifies the city. It is seriously over-stimulating at times, because every corner of UnLondon has something new and strange, which is always described in detail. I believe it is a city that could have only been penned by Mieville, which makes him every bit the successful storyteller.

(In other news, I find that I like to bide my time after a brand new project by revisiting old ones. When I was working on Whispered the River‘s plot summary, I kind of fell in love with the premise for that story all over again. It’s pretty compelling. So, for fun, I’m putsing with a written version of it. So far, I’m getting sucked in. Okay I’m just 3 pages in. But still. It’s interesting, all right!)

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