Review of THE CITY AND THE CITY by China Mieville
Del Rey, May 2009
It looks like a straightforward enough case--a woman's body is discovered, victim of an apparent murder. But the more Inspector Tyador Borlu investigates, the less he's satisfied with the easy answer--that she was a streetwalker who ran into the wrong client. Still, without a clue, without even the woman's identity, Borlu seems stuck. He's even more stuck when he gets a break--a call from someone who sees one of his posters--in a city where that poster must be unseen. If Borlu acts on this information, he puts himself and the case at risk.
Borlu's investigation takes him from his native city of Beszel to its twin city of Ul Qoma. He's certain that the murder involves both cities--that there is Breach. Yet, he cannot prove it--and evidence emerges that someone went to a lot of trouble to avoid breach.
As Borlu investigates, he learns that the victim was a student who once got into trouble for arguing that a mythical third city, Orciny, exists in the gaps between the cities--areas where no-one from either city goes because they believe those areas belong to the other. This mysterious third city, according to fairy tale, controls everything going on in the two evident cities, yet itself remains at the background. Certainly the archeological excavations taking place under Ul Qoma (sadly, most artifacts are under Ul Qoma rather than Beszel sections) points to something in history that is weird, that doesn't make sense.
Author China Mieville (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of novels by Mieville) creates a world that seems just like our everyday Earth, but with a strange double city somewhere in Eastern Europe. Beszel and Ul Qoma exist not just side-by-side but interspersed. From the time they're children, residents of the two cities are trained to 'un-see,' and 'un-sense' people, vehicles, and buildings from the other city even as they share space with them and attempt to avoid getting run over by fast-moving but unseen vehicles. This separation of geographically united cities is ruthlessly enforced by Breach--an shadowy organization that obeys no apparent rules and holds ultimate power whenever someone, whether advertently or not, steps across the line from one city to the other.
I've enjoyed all of the China Mieville stories I've read so far, finding them powerful, if flawed creations. In THE CITY & THE CITY, Mieville transcends himself, creating something wonderful, powerful, and new. I am happy to recommend THE CITY & THE CITY to anyone willing to stretch their minds.
Too generous? Too stingy. Or did I miss the whole point? Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll publish the best letters I get so let me know if I can use your name.
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