This is an ideal book the bridge the gap between chapter books and weighty novels for younger readers. There’s just one problem – I didn’t know this before I started it. I simply grabbed another Mieville on audio after reading the brilliant The City and the City, and didn’t research this one as much as I should have.
So, unwilling to waste an audio book, I persevered and there are some good things here. Like The City and the City, Mieville has again brought to life an imaginary world, this time Un Lun Dun (pronounced unLondon) which lies beneath the real London and is just one of a number existing in the world. It is a world where milk cartoons can be pets, umbrellas could spell doom and the local tailor quite handily has pins for hair. And it is in trouble. A villain known as “The Smog” (quite literally smog) is preying upon unLondoners. Their only hope is the prophesised Shwazzy – The Chosen One.
But the Shwazzy lives in our world – her name is Zanna and her life has been getting rather strange lately. Animals in particular have been responding unusually too her. Eventually she is drawn into Un Lun Dun with her best friend Deeba, where it is predicted she will defeat The Smog. She doesn’t. Instead, she loses her memory of Un Lun Dun and she and Deeba return to London. But Deeba cannot forget her new friends and their seemingly doomed fight. She begins to research Un Lun Dun and realises that their problems are all the result of things happening in our world. Armed with this new information, she returns to Un Lun Dun, adopts the mantle of “The unChosen One” and proceeds to become a hero.
The defiance of the prophecy is one of the cleverest things about this novel, which will appeal to any young person who feels like they perhaps have something inside of them that isn’t yet recognised. It’s not about what we are given – but about what we give to life and those around us. I would definitely recommend this to a good reader of 13 or older. Apparently the print version has illustrations by Mieville (my second mistake, getting this on audio). Sigh.