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The City & The City by China Mieville

01/02/2011. Contributed by Ewan Angus

Buy The City & The City in the USA - or Buy The City & The City in the UK

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pub: Macmillan. 357 page enlarged hardback. Price: GBP 17.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-405-00017-8. pub: Pan Macmillan. 373 page small enlarged hardback. Price: GBP 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-330-49310-9. pub: Del Rey/Ballantine Books. 312 page hardback. Price: $26.00 (US), $30.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-345-49751-2) .

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China Mieville can be pretty hard going. I say this in the nicest way possible, but I find that the cities he conjures to be so hauntingly real that I almost shy away from them. ‘Perdido Street Station’ almost gave me nightmares with its anthropomorphic residents, mainly the bug ones. As for the cross-species intercourse. Well…

But! That is nothing against his writing, rather it’s my own stupid flaw. On saying that, I have read ‘Perdido Street Station’ and I liked but didn’t love it. On the other hand, there is this, ‘The City & The City’. This, I thoroughly enjoyed.

A city in Eastern Europe is a little bit more than it seems. Well, for a start its not one city, its two. Co-existing right on top of one another.

Now before you start presuming I mean, literally, one on top of the other, I don’t. I mean that they exist in unison. In effect, the same city is two cities. A street in one city may not exist in the other, even though it does. It’s just not seen or acknowledged by that cities residents. This is the highlight of this tale, Mieville’s haunting descriptions of the cities residents and the illegality of even noticing the other city. If they set foot, be it accidentally or with intent, the special secret police force known as Breach that exists between the two comes into action.

The cities are tentatively called Bezal and Ul Qoma. One morning, a woman from Ul Qoma is found dead in Bezal, brutally murdered and it’s up to Inspector Tyador Borlu to find out why she was murdered and, almost more importantly, why she was in the city of Bezal, not her home city of ul Qoma.

Throughout the novel, Mieville stresses the difference between the cities, regardless of their exact same geographic location and that’s where this book excels. The cities are separate entities and the time and love he spends on the descriptions of such make this novel a masterpiece in its literary abilities.

The plot itself borrows heavily from the crime genre, indeed, to me, it read more like a twisted crime novel than a fantasy novel. Yet that is exactly what it is, a fantasy novel that strives to be something more, a goal that it ultimately succeeds in. This isn’t just a great genre novel, it’s a work of art. It’s the perfect blend of many genres with none of the weaknesses of any. Another aspect in which this novel succeeds is the mind boggling twists and turns that its chosen setting goes through, not just in the plot but in description as well.

Whilst introduced as two co existing cities, Mieville goes on to stress the importance of the separation of both whilst emphasising the similarities. Namely, the legend of a third city that exists between the other two, in the unoccupied spaces.

In ‘The City & The City’, Mieville perfectly encapsulates the fear of the other, in this case the fear of that which is foreign and ties it into the heinous crime of murder. He then throws in urban legend and European cynicism to make a novel that blows apart the genre that birthed it. Another Mieville novel set firmly in the ‘New Weird’, ‘The City & The City’ is a tour de force in how to cross genre borders. Plus it has a fantastic cast, Taylor is a detective moulded in the classic form and the cities themselves, well, they steal the show. This is a novel that deserves all the praise it receives, not to mention its countless awards and accolades.

Ewan Angus

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This book has 12 votes in the sci-fi charts

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