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Strange things start happening around best friends Zanna and Deeba. A fox appears on the edge of the playground, watching Zanna. They come across graffiti saying “Zanna For Ever!” A woman they don’t know approaches Zanna in a café and tells her what an honor it is to meet her. It all culminates one night when the girls are having a sleepover and notice a broken umbrella hanging off a window, spying on them. They follow the umbrella and eventually find themselves in a place…not London. UnLondon, in fact.
I loved this! Loved it. The author acknowledgments should give you an idea as to what to expect. China Miéville writes, “As always, I’m indebted to too many writers to list, but particularly important to this book are Joan Aiken, Clive Barker, Lewis Carroll, Michael De Larrabeiti, Tanith Lee, Walter Moers, and Beatrix Potter. Particular thanks are due Neil Gaiman, for generous encouragement and for his indispensable contributions to London phantasmagoria, especially Neverwhere.” Miéville chose some big footsteps to follow and he absolutely pulled it off.
This mostly reminded me of Alice in Wonderland, with a little side of Neverwhere. The sense of totally unpredictable fun that pervades Alice was alive and well in Un Lun Dun. There was crazy word play (Binjas! Gotta love ‘em!), fantastical creatures, and a world where the impossible has become the everyday. But underneath all the fun, there were subtle messages about loyalty, friendship, doing your best, having faith in yourself, standing up for what’s right, and even a little dash of environmentalism. None of this is at all heavy-handed though, so it really can be read as a fun adventure story.
Miéville illustrated the book himself, and I loved the illustrations. They added a perfect note of whimsy to an already-whimsical book. My favorite picture is probably the one of UnLondon’s giraffes. You’ll have to read it to find out why.
I also liked that they didn’t “dumb down” the American edition. Sure, there are plenty of British words that the average American 12-year-old isn’t going to understand, but give little readers some credit—they can understand a lot in context. And if they can’t, there’s a glossary at the back.
This is a tiny little thing, but I’ll mention it anyway. The section headings always made me blink a little because the big, heavy Roman numerals always reminded me of those Saw movies. I haven’t seen any and I have no desire to see any, so that association always took me aback for a second.
If you want to read a book that takes you back to the first amazing time you read Alice, pick this up. Those feelings are all within these pages. If you know any younger readers, do them a favor and make sure they read this. It’s just magic.