Review: The City & The City

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I've mentioned my admiration for author China Mieville before. I think he is the best writer alive today. I've yet to read a book of his that wasn't both well written and incredibly fascinating. It's been a while since his last book so I was pleasantly surprised when I heard about his latest novel, "The City & The City."

At its heart, "The City & The City" is a typical detective/murder mystery novel. The protagonist, Tyador Borlu, is a detective in the city of Beszel. Beszel is somewhere in Eastern Europe and isn't doing so great economically. Its sister city, Ul Qoma, however, is prospering. Tyador is tasked with investigating a murder of a young woman and soon finds himself embroiled in a crime that spans both cities.

As I said - fairly typical. However - there is one important aspect to the two cities. They aren't "sister cities" as in two close cities. Both cities actually occupy the same physical place. Yes - the same physical space. But wait - it gets better. Citizens of each city are trained - mentally - to simply ignore the other city. So you can be walking down one road and have the other city, physically, five feet from you. If a person you know is walking in the other city, you can't speak to them. You can't wave. You can't do anything that acknowledges their presence.

If that sounds weird... well it is. Mieville never actually comes out and states if something magical is going on here. Rather it is left to the reader to determine if there is some multi-dimensional hocus pocus are simply a mass form of self-delusion.

Mieville does an awesome job of combing both a great scifi/fantasy story along with an intricate mystery novel. I strongly recommend this novel, especially since it is also one of the more approachable Mieville novels. If you like this, definitely check out "King Rat", and when you are ready, "Perdido Street Station."

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About Raymond Camden

Raymond is a senior developer evangelist for Adobe. He focuses on document services, JavaScript, and enterprise cat demos. If you like this article, please consider visiting my Amazon Wishlist or donating via PayPal to show your support. You can even buy me a coffee!

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Archived Comments

Comment 1 by Jon Hartmann posted on 12/5/2009 at 1:11 AM

I'm a big fan of Mieville as well, although I've not King Rat or The City & The City yet. I'd been kind of waiting on another New Corbuzon book, but I'm not really sure why that should make me wait to read his other books.

A related suggestion: Whitechapel Gods by S. M. Peters is another good book that has a similar feel to Meiville, at least the feel Perdido Street Station.

Comment 2 by Raymond Camden posted on 12/5/2009 at 1:33 AM

The New Corbuzon stuff is a bit... intense. Epic. Mind-blowing. Hence my recommendation of this book, or King Rat, as it is a gentler introduction to the epic-ness. ;) I'd kill for a new book in the series as well.

Oh - and don't forget Un-London (spelled wrong probably). That was probably his weakest book so far - but still pretty interesting.

Comment 3 by Jon Hartmann posted on 12/5/2009 at 1:56 AM

Ha ha, yeah, it is certainly intense. I've often described Meiville as Edger Allen Poe does Fantasy... or maybe Steampunk H. P. Lovecraft... there is a certain feeling of atmosphere and a richness to the vocabulary that I find to be rather rare in fantasy authors.

Comment 4 by Raymond Camden posted on 12/5/2009 at 2:17 AM

Best of all - no damn elves or dwarfs. ;)

Comment 5 by Michael Lewis posted on 2/22/2010 at 8:31 AM

So it took me a while to get to it, but I finally finished reading this today. Good recommendation, Ray! A very imaginative setting; personally, I am a fan of the 'mass form of self-delusion' theory, which I find even more fascinating I first found the overlapping reality idea.