In recent years, young adult fiction has morphed from Fear Street thrillers and gothic romances into books that transcend age. From books like The Hunger Games to The Book Thief, young adult books have attracted the notice of critics and people way too old to be shopping in a section that also peddles Gossip Girl novels.
I myself enjoy the Chaos Walking Trilogy and Leviathon and recommend them to people who like dark science fiction and steam punk, respectively. I also fervently recommend Un Lun Dun by China Mieville. I’ve mentioned Mieville before and he’s one of my favorite writers. He’s a bit tricky to recommend whole-heartedly however. His writing style can swing wildly between the gritty and fantastical, the hyper-descriptive and the dry and monochromatic. Most of his books end with the reader being both depressed and in awe.
Un Lun Dun is less depressing, but just as fantastic as his other works. It’s Mieville playing nice. While there are moments of darkness and despair, for the most part Mieville is not trying to crush all of your hopes and dreams. What he has done, however, is create a fantasy work that is fundamentally about thumbing your nose at convention.
And this isn’t just the theme of the novel, although Mieville is less than subtle about his anger at politicians and the businesses that drive them. The very structure of the novel tweaks the nose of every fantasy trope. Everything from the protagonist to the central quest she embarks on is a big wet raspberry at the cliches of the genre. The hero isn’t what you expect, the villains are monstrous in surprisingly realistic ways, and the world they inhabit is an original and novel place.
This is a good place to start with Mieville, a way to see his extraordinary imagination at work with less of the nightmare-tinged despair of Perdido Street Station.
A billion stars or something.