China Miéville is mostly known for steampunk novels like The Scar (my review) and Perdido Street Station (my review). The City & The City sees him branching into what might be called Magical Realism Noir. Things are still plenty weird and Kafkaesque, if not quite as dark, bloody, and hopeless as his previous work.
The idea is that in Eastern Europe—probably close to the Balkans though it’s never specified precisely—exists a city that is actually two cities inhabiting the same space: Beszel and Ul Qoma. In certain areas the cities blend into each other and inhabitants have learned to “unsee” things from the “wrong” city. If a person crosses into the “wrong” city or remembers seeing what exists on the other side, that person is considered in breach. Once that happens, a shadowy entity or organization—we’re not really sure which—also called Breach takes the person away, never to be heard from again. So, it’s important to say the least to not breach.
The novel starts off with a corpse being found in Beszel, which turns out to have come from Ul Qoma. This naturally leads to some consternation.
The novel is told in first-person by a weary, hard-drinking cop right out of central casting. Which is actually not a bad thing, as it gives the reader something familiar to hold on to while Miéville constructs his settings and backstory.
The City & The City starts off slow and ponderous as Miéville builds the setting, but speeds up noticeably once all the pieces are in place, and becomes downright action-packed toward the end.
Well worth reading.
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