Twelve year olds Zanna and Deeba are best friends at school and at home. Deeba starts to notice that odd things are happening around Zanna, animals staring at her as though they recognise her for instance. One of their friends is nearly killed in a car accident caused by a very strange foglike substance. Then one night they look through the window, down into the street, and see a broken umbrella acting as though it's watching them - it then stumbles off. They go out into the night and follow it and end up in an underground tunnel turning a wheel that takes them to a place that seems wrong in every respect.
'Unlondon' is an alternative London where rubbish or abandoned things end up. The buildings are made of defunct items such as typewriters or old washing machines, one has a forest inside. The people aren't quite right either. One man is made of printed paper with a pincushion for a head, another wears a diving suit that hides his appearance. There's a stange individual called Brokenbroll who has control of all the broken umbrellas that 'come over' from London. And there are ghosts and a half-ghost boy, Hemi, who befriends them.
The two girls are told that Zanna is the chosen one, the 'Shwazzy' (from the French: choisi). Unlondon is being besieged by an evil Smog and it's been prophesised that a blonde-haired girl will come from London to save them. Zanna is the one. But is she? After a run-in with the Smog the girls return to their own London with Zanna's memory lost. And thus it's Deeba who worries about how things are in Unlondon and Deeba who finds a way to return. She's not the chosen one but must nevertheless find a way to defeat the Smog, not just for Unlondon's sake but for her own London's sake as well.
Ok, so this wasn't quite what I was expecting. I think I thought it was aimed at young adults of, say, 14 to 16 but I think it's more aimed at the 10 to 14 age group instead. Not that it matters as people of any age could read and enjoy it but it's nice to be aware. China Miéville's adult books are unusual I gather (I haven't read any) and possibly a bit challenging. Un Lun Dun is definitely 'unusual' but is not at all challenging to read... not for adults anyway. I think 10 year old children might find it so but also find it worth the effort as it's full of imagination with some very different, sometimes creepy, characters. All kinds of wierd things going on with every-day objects like umbrellas used as weapons, buses flying around the sky, a forest growing in a house, Westminster Abbey the centre of a spider's web that's full of portal type windows. Yes... it's that weird. But it works and is great fun.
Where it came up a bit short was in the characterisation. I never really felt much of a connection to Deeba. I admired her bravery and dogged determination to defeat the Smog but she didn't always feel like a real twelve year old girl. I think we may be back to my age-old complaint that most male authors just don't write girls or women very well. What I do admire is that the author did it at all. The fantasy genre is choc-a-bloc with books with young male protagonists so all power to China Miéville's elbow for being prepared to give us a strong 'girl'. It makes a refreshing change.
I'll be putting this one aside for my grandson to read in a year or two as I think he'll like its oddness and imagination. Although at the moment he's showing signs of being more of a non-fiction fan where books are concerned... with a definite liking for books full of facts about the natural world. To be honest, I'm just happy that I have two grandchildren who like to read.
Un Lun Dun is my book 3 for Carl's Once Upon A Time IX and my book 10 for Bev's Mount TBR 2015 challenge.