Friday, August 06, 2010

None so blind

China Miéville's urban fantasy novel The City and the City is an unlikely entrant for the Hugos.

That's not because the story is bad. It is an excellent story, gripping to the last page. It's the sort of book you'll lose sleep over if you happen to get caught up in it at the wrong time. Miéville's style is, as expected, extremely competent, drawing you into the book's world, bringing you face to face with the characters. No, there's every reason for people to like the book.

It's just that it doesn't have any wizards, no magic, no dragons. There's not so much as a mystical potion to be found anywhere between the covers of the book. It is a mystery with enough thrill for a bestselling potboiler. It is a story that takes place in an eminently mundane albeit fictional East European city, in a recognizable present.

It's the people living in this city are what makes it a strange place - which is the rule for most places where people live. But it's the magic of Miéville's prose that turns this from well written general fiction into the kind of fantasy that will get nominated for the Hugo.

I don't want to give too much away here: part of the story's charm is to allow the prose to work its way with your imagination, until you suddenly realize what kind of a place things are happening in. Once you have that revelation, other questions pose themselves, until, by the end of the story, you finally glimpse the whole picture. That the story itself is a nice little murder mystery complete with red herrings and plenty of dead bodies, which is an altogether fitting vehicle for Miéville's fantasy, is just another bonus.


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