China Mieville — Un Lun Dun

I LOVE China Mieville. I want to make that clear. The end of Perdido Street Station ALWAYS makes me cry. Plus, he’s a smarty-pants who’s also written a book on Marxism and international law. All this gave me VERY high hopes for Un Lun Dun, Mieville’s foray into young adult fiction. Plus, I wanted find some decent young adult books after seeing the downer that is Harper Collin’s recommended summer reading list.

:dramatic pause:

I totally succeeded. This is such a keeper. Basically, it’s about Deeba Resham and Zanna Moon, two BFFs who find themselves surrounded by a series of mysterious events. Soon, it becomes clear that tall, pretty, blonde Zanna is the Schwazzy, the Chosen One who will save UnLondon, the secret city behind London. Deeba, her browner, shorter, chubbier friend, is mentioned in the prophecy as well. To her chagrin, she’s the “Funny One,” one of Zanna’s sidekicks. The girls are a symbol of hope to UnLondon, and Zanna, at least, feels ready to take on the city’s nebulous, powerful enemy — Smog.

But then things go awfully wrong. Zanna is taken out in her first battle against the Smog. The Unberillismo, the boss of all the unberellas in UnLondon, has, however devised a clever plan. He insists that they no longer need a Chosen One, and for Zanna’s safety she and Deeba are sent back to their home-world.

Deeba, however, starts to suspect treachery. The prophecy can no longer be fulfilled, but isn’t Un Lun Dun still in danger? Deeba leaves Zanna, her family, and the rest of London behind in order to embark on a perilous journey to save two worlds. She’s the UNCHOSEN One, and best believe she’s looking to kick ass and take names.

There are multiple layers of awesome to this story. First, Deeba. She’s a smart, clever, wise-ass of a girl, who works as a character because she grows in believable ways. Like, there’s no random sequence where she suddenly intuits what she needs to do. She works it out using the information provided her, and it’s this intellect that ultimately saves the city. She’s not an agent of prophecy. She’s a stubborn problem-solver. The other character grow to respect not because she’s the Schwazzy but because she’s willing to take risks on their behalf. Their belief in her is hard-won and well-earned.

Second, Hemi. He’s half-ghost, and while I normally detest mixed-race fantasy characters, Hemi is so charming. Both ghosts and full humans distrust him, because he doesn’t really belong in the worlds of the living or the dead. I appreciate this, since if you believe Tanis Half-Elven, only half of your heritage is ever angsty about the purity of your bloodline. :eyeroll:

Third, UnLondon, as a world, is made of win. It’s a place where words can literally come to life and where secret weapons are protected by the mysterious Black Window of Webminster Abbey. It’s punnish, like old school Xanth, but without the gratuitous panty-talk or the cutesy reliance on feminine wiles as a major plot-point. In UnLondon, the Propheseers are guardians of prophecy, and bus conductors are the knight errants of land in turmoil.

Thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyable. This would be a great book to give to a younger sib, especially if you’re looking to ween  them away from  the sometimes emotionally over-wrought world of Twilight or needed something a bit more adult than The Phanton Tollbooth.


  1. gategrrl says

    Thanks for the review! I’ve seen this book listed on SFBC’s site, but didn’t order it. I wasn’t sure if my daughter would like it–but she liked another story set in NYC that involved the Other’s world and Changelings. (The Changeling)

    I’ll have to see if my library carries it.

  2. says

    It’s really very good. One of the other things that’s great about it is that it valorizes contemporary teens and their creativity with language and slang — there’s a great sequence where Deeba marshalls Bling, Diss, and Cauldron against an evil word-lord who insists that words can only do one thing. VERY fun book.

  3. Sophie says

    I am 10 and I really really liked this book. I liked Deeba because she is very funny and doesn’t just wait at home for boys to have adventures. I liked the storyline because it is written well.
    (My mum gave me this book but wont let me read other books by the same author.)
    ‘The Inkheart’ trilogy by Cornelia Funke are really good and have a good heroine, I also recommend the ‘Janna Mysteries’ by Felicity Pulman because Janna is a good heroine.

  4. says

    Hi Sophie!

    Mieville’s other stuff is reallllly scary but also realllllly good. I’ll definitely check out the other books you mentioned. :) My favorite book when I 10 was Tamara Pierce’s *Alanna*. I also REALLY loved *College of Magics* and the Chrestomanci series.

    You might see if your mom will let you check out *The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon* by Stephen King, *Coraline* by Neil Gaiman, or *Justice and Her Brothers* by Virginia Hamilton. I’ll also be posting a few reviews of books by Gail Carson Levine, who wrote the book *Ella Enchanted* was based on.


  5. Zahra says

    Thanks for spreading the word about this book! I also loved it; it’s a bit like _Alice in Wonderland_ meets _Neverwhere_ meets Harry Potter (with infinitely better gender politics than the latter two). I actually think it’s a great book for the HP crowd. But then, I’m a sucker for books that talk.

    I’m curious whether you thought Deeba was “coded” as being a kid of color–I thought she was, but it was never made explicit, and this struck me as an interesting choice.

  6. gategrrl says

    My daugher loved Ella Enchanted; but the problem I had with that book had nothing to do with the story (which was fun) but with the writer’s syntax in the first person voice she chose to write in. It was very awkward and difficult to get through–I read it out loud to my daughter.

  7. says

    Hi Zahra —

    Yeah, I think Deeba is definitely coded as a kid of color. I actually liked that that’s never made explicit, since I think it’s a bit self conscious when an author’s writing from limited 3rd person and goes into detailed descriptions of the body. Plus, I know I never really go, “Maria, brown skinned like always, went and saved the day.” I liked the little detail of her knocking over her dad’s rice when she gets back from UnLondon, tho, and I think that took it from straight coding to overt.

  8. says

    Hmmm. 1st person is definitely a sometimes awkward syntax.

    You might check to see if your library has *The Fairy Rebel* by Lynne Reid Banks — there’s a rescue, a chubby fairy wearing blue jeans, and some brave, sassy ladies. 😀

    I think I read that aloud to my nieces and it felt okay. Coraline was also good to read aloud.

  9. says

    I just read this book, and you are so right. I wanted my niece to magically get 8 years older so I could give it to her.

    I especially loved the book because it turned my expectations so totally upside down. “Chosen Ones” and prophecies are among my pet peeves in fantasy novels, because they seem so contrived, unbelievable, and almost unheroic. When the Schwazzy thing was busted out in UnLunDun, I actually rolled my eyes. Then when it turned into the “Unchosen One” instead, I was taken aback and completely charmed. I so loved this book.

  10. The Other Patrick says

    I love this book. When the Chosen One (French chosen = choisée = Shwazzy) is taken out and it’s Deeba who returns to do what she can, despite thinking she’s only the “funny one”, that is when I fell in love with this book. Who cares about prophecy? Let’s just save the world, dangit! I wish we’d get a film version of this, though Deeba would surely be white, then.

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