Posted by: Sally Ingraham | August 4, 2010

Un Lun Dun

un lun dunby China Mieville

A recent post by Isabella of Magnificent Octopus brought China Mieville to my attention for the first time. Her review of his newest book, Kraken, made me immensely curious, so on my next trip to my local library I checked to see if they had any of his work in the collection. To my mild surprise, they actually did – but the discovery that it was Un Lun Dun made me hesitate for a long moment.

I’ve looked at this book before – nearly checked it out three or four times even. It’s cover, which depicts a slightly creepy looking girl with huge dark eyes holding a book, while a hazy cathedral rises behind her and a double-decker bus crawls by on four thick amphibian type legs, is definitely intriguing. The idea of a “Wonderland of strange delights where all the lost and broken things of London end up”, and a 12 year old girl on a quest to save it didn’t sound bad. I’ve been having trouble with books targeted at YA and middle-school aged kids lately though, which is not shocking considering that I am no longer that age myself and my reading horizons have expanded in recent years. I have repeatedly put this book back on the shelf with a vague sense of nostalgia, and an awkward unease. If I took it home and read it, would it be awesome, or would I be underwhelmed by something that was no longer fulfilling?

Faced by these fears (not as silly as they sound, given the precious amount of reading time I have – and even with all the time in the world I couldn’t read all the books I want to!) I decided to give it a go, even though the great review of Mieville’s work refered to his adult fiction, and Un Lun Dun was his first book for “young readers”.

To my extreme relief and great pleasure, this book was good! Certainly its protagonist was 12 and her reactions to circumstances were simple, full of wide-eyed wonder, but I found it easy to relate to Deeba, and she wasn’t at all annoying or (more importantly) too know-it-all arrogant. It was kind of amusing that the bad guy in the book is basically pollution – smog evolves and becomes conscious, then schemes to take over the world of Un Lun Dun, where it has escaped after the “weather witches” of London kicked it’s arse. The story seemed original and wildly imaginative. The world that Mieville came up with was amazing, populated by quirky and bizarre characters (friends and quest companions of Deeba’s include a half-ghost, a tailor whose head is a giant pin-cushion, and a yappy affectionate empty milk carton). Visually I was reminded of worlds like the one Neil Gaimon created in MirrorMask (as portrayed in Dave McKean’s movie version actually), and Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth. At the same time though, this world was new and different. Well crafted and entertaining, and not too complex, this book was a treat. I’m glad I finally read it – and I am beyond eager to read more from Mieville.


  1. So it’s a nice, innocent book then? From the look of the cover I thought it was going to be something creepy like Coraline.

    • Well… I wouldn’t call it totally innocent, but it’s not as spooky as Coraline. It all depends on what imagery gets under your skin. There’s some weird stuff in this, but button eyes creep me out more than a pincushion head!

  2. I’ve never read anything by Mieville, but this sounds like something I could start with – Kraken seemed a bit too much… 🙂

    • I definitely want to read Kraken, but I’m curious about his other work too. We’ll have to compare notes!

  3. […] (yes, that doctor). I’ve been meaning to return to the weird worlds of China Mieville ever since reading Un Lun Dun last August. Inspired (now twice in a row) by Isabella of Magnificent Octopus (whose […]

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