The City & The City
by China Mieville
Cover Artist: FWIS
Review by Colleen Cahill
Del Rey Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780345497512
Date: 26 May 2009 List Price $26.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Links: China's July UK Signings / Show Official Info /
The cities of Besźel and Ul Qoma have a very unusual relationship; they occupy the same physical space, sort of. Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Besźel Extreme Crime Squad is made more aware of the politics between the two metropolises when a body of a murdered woman is found in a local skate park. What seems a routine investigation is made very complex when it is discovered that the victim was killed in Ul Qoma and dumped in Besźel. At first it seems that the mysterious Breach, who deal with illegal city crossings, will be handed off the case but when it is revealed the body did travel through the legal routes, the case is tossed back in Besźel's lap. At every level, this is a complex murder, as the young woman proves to be an American archeology student studying in Ul Qoma who had been looking for evidence of a fabled third city, Orciny, which lives between the other two towns. She has not only sought Orciny through historical research, but also by contacted various separatist and unification groups; these are dangerous political organizations with opposing views but both prepared to commit violence for their cause. Did the victim cross a border and pay a very steep price?
Once again Miéville takes genre tropes, such as the murder mystery, the noir detective and the magical city and molds them into something that is different from the pieces he has assembled. The most intriguing parts of the book come from the separate and yet merged parts of Besźel and Ul Qoma. The inhabitants of both places must practice “unseeing” the other city, which creates for some interesting situations, such as driving in traffic and buildings with “one floor or room in Besźel and the next in Ul Qoma”. Not only is it illegal to cross between these very nebulous borders, but doing so can bring you to the attention of Breach, after which you are likely to never be seen again. It is a quirky and dangerous place to exist. I liked how Besźel has the feel of a poor Eastern Bloc area while Ul Qoma has leanings towards a Middle East community, both seeming opposites and also having much in common.
It was a delight to read this book and the murder mystery was just as thrilling as the very unusual geography. As always, Miéville is a word smith and even creates new terms, such as “dopplurbanology” which read like a nature part of the landscape. I was prepared for the vast vocabulary that Miéville often uses, but found that I only had to look up about one word a page, as opposed to one per paragraph I normally experience. This is a high recommended book, definitely for any fans of Miéville's work and a good place to start exploring this author's work.