It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed anything by China Miéville but I am glad I picked up The City and The City. This novel is one of them strange novels which defies genre, being a mind bending mix between a police procedural, science fiction and fantasy. The premise is that of two cities Besźel and Ul Qoma, whom share the same geographical space and whose citizens have learned to block out knowledge of the other two cities. The novel revolves around Inspector Tyador Borlú and his investigation into what appears to be a routine murder which quickly turns to be more complex, with his investigation taking him between the two cities in a mind bending plot involving the mysterious secret police force, Breach, whom investigate instances where people “breach” from one city into the other, one of the gravest crimes in both cities and the supposed existence of a third city known as Orciny.
The book is anything but simple and it takes a while to get your mind around the concepts displayed within, especially the way the two cities interact and the way Breach works. The premise itself is a very strange once, in part because despite this Besźel and Ul Qoma are otherwise normal cities set in the real world with supposed connections to the rest of the world. It was also interesting to see how the two cities developed culturally to make unseeing the other city easier, such as one city always being a generation behind in terms of technology. These little details made the cities feel real. This is aside from the obvious fact that we are following a member of Besźel’s law enforcement, which is portrayed just like you would expect a real life police agency would.
In terms of criticism I had to say it was initially difficult to pick out the stranger aspects of the novel since the details such as the two cities sharing the same space and things such as Breach are introduced only gradually, with the story starting out a bit like a simple police procedural. This tricked me a little bit but also left me confused since I knew there were fantasy/ science fiction elements in the book prior to reading it. In the long run this realistic approach cemented a sort of magical realism feel but at the start it just left me confused.
The novel picked up its pace after a few bits of confusion at the beginning and once I understood the concepts of Breach and the two cities I began to enjoy the novel a lot more, with the various politics within the city playing a huge role. There were many twists and turns in the novel and I have to say a lot of them I didn’t see coming. Like many novels which cover complex topics the novel lost its meds around the climax. I can’t go into detail without giving out huge spoilers but generally the climax went into heavy territory, raising new questions while at the same time only half explaining them. A lot of the main plot still made a bit of sense but I still found myself reeling, trying to get my head around some things.
This novel was still strong and I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to read something a little different. In fact I will likely reread it again at some point in the future to see if I can gain a better understanding of it now that I know more of the main plot. I liked reading this novel and within a few chapters I had already forgotten about my confusion with the opening, a testament to Miéville’s gripping prose. The novel covered a lot of the stuff I expected from a China Miéville novel and was everything I imagined it to be. Like many of Miéville’s stuff it’s very different and something worth reading for anyone who wants to do anything a bit different with their science fiction and fantasy. This novel is so genre bending that both science fiction and fantasy fans alike will gain something from reading this.
IN A WORD: CLEVER