The man was tall and thin, with a jagged halo of thick, spiky hair. His suit was white and covered with tiny black marks.
It was print. His clothes were made from pages from books, immaculately sewn together.
“No, this won’t do,” he said. He spoke quickly, tugging at Zanna’s clothes too fast for her to stop him. “This is very drab, can’t possibly keep you entertained. What you need –” He flourished his sleeve. “– is this. The hautest of couture. Be entertained while you wear. Never again need you face the misery of unreadable clothes. Now you can pick your favorite works of fiction or nonfiction for your sleeves. Perhaps a classic for the trousers. Poetry for your skirt. Historiography for socks. Scripture for knickers. Learn while you dress!”
He whipped a tape from his pocket and began to measure Zanna. He yanked at his head, and Zanna and Deeba winced and gasped. What had looked like hair was countless pins and needles jammed anyhow into his scalp, a handful of which he pulled out.
The man did not bleed or seem to suffer any discomfort from treating himself as a pincushion. He wedged some of the pins back into his head, and there was a faint pfft with each puncture, as if his skull were velvet…He indicated his stall, crammed with volumes from which assistants tore pages and stitched. “What genres and literatures are to your taste?”
Flying double-decker buses. Wily umbrellas. Pet milk cartons. Menacing windows. Sure enough, we are definitely not in Kansas anymore, Toto. The world of Un Lun Dun is populated by an utterly eccentric collection of half-ghosts, slaterunners, propheseers and the occasional heroic bus conductor. A very tricky place to navigate for a couple of 12-year-old girls.
Yet Zanna and Deeba have got to navigate it, and outwit the sinister forces plotting to conquer and dominate not only Un Lun Dun but worlds beyond. Sounds like a typical fantasy plot, but this book is anything but typical.
China Miéville, an award-winning fantasy author from the UK, has created a weird and wonderful world here, incredibly inventive; an Alice-in-Wonderland flavored urban landscape. And he has populated it with an array of creatures, many of whom would be inanimate in our world, who in turn dismay, perplex, and endear us to themselves. His writing is spectacular. His pacing is smoothly, relentlessly forward. His wordplay is delightfully cunning. His characters stay true to themselves right to the end. Rejecting some of the well-tread fantasy plotlines, he works to forge fresh twists and turns. This is fantasy to compete with the best in fantasy.
But it’s not the easiest of reading, nor short. His vocabulary is rich, sprinkled with British-isms, for which he kindly includes a brief lexicon, and at almost 500 pages, it’s a lengthy read. For kids 11 and up who have gobbled up thousands of pages of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings and have come up gasping for MoreMoreMore!, however, this is do-able. For those voracious readers, and anyone older, this is a delicious treat. Several of my family have read this over Christmas break, and we’re all giving it a two-thumbs up!
Amazon link: Un Lun Dun