Sunday, May 17, 2009

The City and the City by China Mieville (3/5 stars)

I have read a couple other China Mieville novels. I loved King Rat, I though Un Lun Dun was only so-so, and I just couldn't get through Perido Street Station; so that gives the viewpoint that I rate this novel from. This was a very creative novel in which I though that the creativity was forced on the reader so much that the story itself suffers. It is one of those books that everyone should read, that will generate lots of discussion, and that is an interesting read...unfortunately I did not find it an enjoyable read. It really felt like the story itself (the murder mystery and even the characters) was there as aninconvenience and the point of this book was really to disclose this really creative idea.

Tyador Borlu at the Extreme Crime Division gets pulled into a murder mystery that ends up being about a lot more than a young woman being murdered. His is sucked into a mystery that is bigger than he knows and it is a mystery that will have him challenging all that he believes as a citizen of Beszel. It is written in the style of a detective story; and is much more of a political crime story than a fantasy.

As you can imagine this is a book about two cities. I won't say what the deal with those two cities are because that would spoil the book a bit, but those two cities are very unique. Mieville goes to great ends to make sure that for the first third of the book he never explains to the readers what the deal is with the Beszel and Ul Qoma. He throws lots of strange terminology at you and forces you to just go along for the ride guessing as you go. This is fine, it keeps the reader interested; although it is a bit frustrating to force the reader to go through a lot of work to figure out something that could be briefly stated as part of the story.

After the first 1/3 or so I start to have a problem with this book. About 1/3 of the way through the only thing Mieville does is go through the mechanics of how these two cities work, over and over and over. After assuming we are intelligent readers and can figure things out from the hints given in the first 1/3 of the book; he then does a 180 and assumes that we are stupid and need things explained over and over. It really bothered me.

This come to my second problem with the book. That is that the huge murder story in the beginning seems to be nothing other than a vehicle to talk about the relationship between Beszel and Ul Qoma. In fact as the murder story continues the story turns more into a social commentary than a good mystery story. I agree with the other person who gave this three stars; it seemed like Mieville didn't really care about the mystery and solved it because he knew he should. The whole mystery around the young woman's death was veryminimized.

From me this book gets an okay. It has an extremely interesting and creative premise; so creative and interesting that in an of itself this premise will generate a lot of talk. It is so awesomely creative that everyone should read it just to be exposed to the idea. Unfortunately I don't believe that being creative gives an author license to be lax about the story. At the end of this story it seemed that none of the characters really mattered, even the original mystery of the story didn't matter all that much, the whole deal was about the creative world.

All in all, this is something that you should probably should. Personally I had trouble getting through it. The premise was very intriguing at first, then as the story grew less and less important, I grew bored with the book. It is not a book that has made me like Mieville's writing more. I still have "The Scar" on my shelf to be read and I have heard that is a good book. Hopefully people reading this review will take it as the opinion it is; I realize a lot of people are absolutely loving this book but I was not one of them.

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