My rating: 3 of 5 stars
China Mievelle is considered to be part of the vanguard of the new weird. The back of the book is full of praise for the author, comparing him to some fairly big names. Personally, I think its a matter of taste.
The basic story line is that two friends, Zanna and Deeba find themselves transported to an alternate dimension or a mirror world; from London to Un-Lun-Dun (UnLodon, get it?). Zanna is immediately hailed as Shwazzy, the chosen one and taken to the Propheseers to learn more about her destiny. Unfortunately, Zanna gets conked on the head at their first action against the enemy, the Smog, and then sent back home in the care of Deeba. That’s when it gets interesting. Deeba uncovers a plot that will have UnLondon within the grips of the Smog so decides she has to intervene, even if she isn’t the chosen one. She returns to UnLondon with a mind to warn the Propheseers, but quickly learns that they have already been taken in by the plot. So Deeba is now being hunted by the Smog and its allies and the good guys. She sets out to complete the tasks that the chosen one was supposed to do with the help of her unlikely friends.
The ebook version had a number of typos in the first quarter of the book and the writing at times felt very clunky. The book is very long, but gets better as you go further into it. The plot isn’t rocket science, although making the ‘sidekick’ the actual protagonist and hero of the novel is a nice touch. However, Deeba is an Asian girl and a Muslim, and yet there is no reference to her cultural or religious upbringing. Also, this book should be classed as YA even though its packaged as adult literature.
The star of the show is the world-building and the strange menagerie of characters that readers are introduced to through the book, although at times even these feel a little convoluted, like the products of a class of creative writing students. The influences are obvious and some are even signposted by the author in the acknowledgments, including most notably Neil Gaiman, as well as others like Clive Barker and Lewis Caroll, which is fair, as a completely original idea in fiction is probably just that; fiction. That said, there are moments of genius here, like Mr Speaker and his Utterlings, that justify some of the praise given to him.
The book aspires to matching Gaiman’s Neverwhere, but never really reaches the level of Gaiman’s writing or imagination. Its still a decent week’s read but for me didn’t really live up to the hype.