Zanna and Deeba, two seemingly ordinarly pre-teen girls, are suddenly thrust into an unfamiliar world when they follow an umbrella into a dark London basement and emerge in Un Lun Dun. Un Lun Dun is an “abcity,” part of a universe that parallels our own but has many significant differences. (For example, giraffes aren’t exactly harmless herbivores in Un Lun Dun….) At first, Zanna and Deeba only want to go home; but they soon learn that Un Lun Dun is under attack by the evil Smog, and Zanna is supposed to be the “Schwazzy,” or chosen one, who will fulfill an ancient prophecy and defeat it. The girls are willing enough to help, but when their first encounter with the Smog goes terribly wrong, it’s up to Deeba, rather than the chosen Zanna, to save the day.
This was my first encounter with Miéville, and I’m thinking it won’t be my last. If you enjoy detailed world-building and clever puns, this is definitely a book for you! The world of Un Lun Dun is wildly inventive, from the trash-can warriors known as “binjas” to the flying buses to the “extreme librarians” who populate the abcity. You may think the book sounds a lot like Gaiman’s Neverwhere, what with the alternate London setting, but I was actually reminded a lot more of Jasper Fforde. The plot itself is rather predictable, but it’s still a fun ride to follow Deeba as she figures out who her real allies and her real enemies are. Some may find the book a bit preachy on the issue of environmentalism — the villain is literally called Smog, after all — but since this book is aimed toward younger readers, I suppose the message shouldn’t be too subtle! All in all, I found this book very entertaining, and I’m interested to try some of Miéville’s adult novels now.