Sunday, 6 September 2009

Un Lun Dun - China Miéville

This is China Miéville's first book for children and he both wrote and illustrated it. I should also mention that it won the 2008 Locus Award for Young Adult Book. I've read, and enjoyed, all of his books written for adults and could not resist giving in to temptation when I saw this on offer. Perhaps that's why my TBR pile is so large...

The blurb from amazon: "UnLondon is at war. We're under attack. And it's been written, for centuries, that you you will come and save us.' Stumbling through a secret entrance, Zanna and Deeba emerge in the strange wonderland of UnLondon. Here all the lost and broken things of London end up, and some of its people, too including Brokkenbroll, boss of the broken umbrellas and Hemi the half-ghost boy.

UnLondon is a place where Routemaster buses have legs, where Librarians are 'bookaneers', intrepid adventurers dedicated to hunting down lost books, and postmen spend years tracking the mobile addresses of the ever changing Puzzleborough. But the girls have arrived at a dangerous time UnLondon is under siege by the sinister Smog; it's a city awaiting its hero."

Un Lun Dun is set in a parallel London, his surreal version called UnLondon contains components that would be familiar to Londoners but with a twist. For starters, the double-decker buses float in the sky or walk around on feet...
Looking at the cover, you can also get an idea for the slightly different housing standards in the alternative version of the city! I really thought that the illustrations were great - some of them in particular have a very disturbing quality that should appeal to gruesome youngsters and I really enjoyed the part they played in building up an image of UnLondon.

Miéville excels at taking the ordinary and subverting it into something new. Characters introduced included the awesome "Binja"'s (as featured leaping on the cover) which are guard dustbins with arms and legs and kick-ass martial arts skills. Other notable mentions for me include the roaming packs of feral flesh-eating giraffes who feed on the unwary and the Black Windows who live in Webminster Abbey.

Amongst others, Deeba's sidekicks include a bus conductor, a book of prophecy that is trying to come to terms with the discover that it's inaccurate, and a small, empty milk carton called Curdle. Together they adventure around the districts that make up UnLondon and battle against the mysterious cloud of smoke, the Smog, which it turns out has been banished from London by the Klinneract (the Clean Air Act).

He has a fantastic imagination and is not afraid to kill off characters which means that this story was enormous fun to read even as an adult. You could see where it was going but you were never quite sure how it would get there. Perhaps my only criticism would be that there were so many inventive characters and concepts that they sometimes distracted me from the main story. It's an odd thing to say but I found at times that there were too many really interesting ideas in the book and I wanted to explore tangents rather than follow the fight for freedom.

Thankfully, the book is left with plenty scope for a sequel and I'd love to see what he could do with some of the other cities alluded to like No York, Lost Angeles, Hong Gone, Sans Francisco, Helsunki or Romeless. Or just to go back to UnLondon and explore more of it!

For the interested, Del Ray have made a great Un Lun Dun sub-site for the book with an excerpt, teachers notes, more illustrations and an interesting China Miéville interview.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

August Reading List

I have been a VBB (Very Bad Blogger) recently and am waaaaay behind on book (and alphabet weekend) posts which makes it rather difficult to link my reading list this month to them! I'm not quite sure how this happened but I think it might have a lot to do with having an iPod Touch. I used to log in to my PC when I got in from work to check emails and have a general pootle but now I use my iPod to check mail when at home I don't bother. This means that I only log in before I go to work to read feeds and update my blog which has had a serious impact on my posting rate.

I'm currently taking part in four challenges, which I think has to be a record for me, and here's a very general update on my progress:

Non-Fiction Five - Technically complete as I've read six non-fiction books, but there's always scope for another cheeky addition before the end of September as I used it as an excuse to buy a couple of books so I feel as if I should justify that indiscretion! I've enjoyed taking part in this challenge more than I thought I would and might make a "rule" for myself that I should try to include at least one non-fiction book in my reading pile each month.

Graphic Novel Challenge - I've got a few more books to read before I hit even the 6 target but I have a Plan. My local library has had a big increase of it's Teen section (which is, of course, where they house graphic novels) and I plan to raid it in a couple of weeks. There are a few novels that I want to buy as well (I should never have bought the 500 Essential Graphic Novels book!) but I might have to leave those for the Christmas list as can't really justify it to myself. If only I could afford the Absolute Sandman collections... *drool*

12 Step Poetry Programme - This one kicks off this month and I'm looking forward to reading my first book of poetry this weekend. I have not decided who to choose just yet but luckily I have plenty to select from on my shelf and I'm really looking forward to seeing what other participants read too.

R.I.P. IV - Another one that started this week and I've yet to even choose my short-list of books to read over the next two months to take me up to Halloween! I've been saving up some Poe and James audiobooks for months in preparation and I am tempted to re-read The Woman in White too. I'm planning to have a look through other blogger's short-lists this weekend so should have plenty of options to choose from when I've done that!

Whilst I'm talking about challenges, I'll wrap up my Year of Readers progress too... In September I read only 8 books, which was less than I thought I'd manage a week or so ago when I finished Tigana in just a few days, so that's a donation of £8 to Book Aid International taking my total to £87 but £111 when you include the tax rebate. Which I will because it looks better! When I get around to writing more reviews I will update my September reading list links below. Promise...

Darkest Hour & Always Forever - Mark Chadbourne
The Sugar Queen - Sarah Addison Allen
Persepolis - Marjane Satrapi
The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga
Best Served Cold - Joe Abercrombie
A Touch of Love - Jonathan Coe
Tigana - Guy Gavriel Kay