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“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” 
― Stephen King, On Writing.

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"If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals."— J.K. Rowling

Un Lun Dun

Un Lun Dun - China Miéville If (for whatever strange reason) you ever wondered what a love child of "Alice in Wonderland" and Gaiman's "Neverwhere" would look like if it were raised by the Master of Weird - well, say hello to Un Lun Dun. 'I know you're not a sidekick.''No one is!' Deeba shouted. 'That's no way to talk about anyone! To say they're just hangers-on to someone more important.'This is an ode to all the sidekicks out there, those who were 'destined' to be on the sidelines, to be the 'funny one' or 'brainy one' or 'whatever one' to the Chosen One. Don't you hate that trope? I do. I know that in a fantasy setting I'd surely be the sidekick. I do not love that designation, and, apparently, neither does China Miéville. And while he is busy subverting that ages-old trope, he decides to overturn a few more genre clichés (the quests, the prophesies, all that), making it a delightful, fresh read.'If we planned ahead, sent a few messages', Obaday went on, 'maybe got a gnostechnician to check the travel reports on the undernet, stayed each night with friends in safe places in whatever borough we reached then it would be perfectly safe. Well, reasonably safe. Safe-esque. But, yes, it would be dangerous if we didn't think ahead, and we took a wrong turning into Wraithtown, or met some scratchmonkeys or a building with house-rabies, or, lord help us, if we ran into the giraffes.'The city-protagonist that CM excels at creating is the titular UnLondon, the 'abcity' (just like "Parisn't, or No York, or Helsunki, or Lost Angeles, or Sans Francisco, or Hong Gone, or Romeless") that can (of course!) be entered by 'booksteps' and 'storyladders', with the parallels to the 'regular' world in the same way as "Alice in Wonderland" has parallels to it. Miéville lets his boundless imagination run wild. The surreal world of the abcity is fantastic and neatly crafted - the extreme librarians, unbrellas, the living words, carnivorous giraffes, binjas, Black Windows in Webminster Abbey, Puzzleborough, donut-shaped UnSun, bus conductors that also conduct electricity, and even what to me looks like a version of Perdido Street Station... The details are fascinating, the world-building, as usual, mind-boggling. The world that would be amazing and captivating to the eyes of a child and an adult alike - but still, in true Miéville fashion, it has its ugly sides. And now it is threatened and is in need of the (Un)Chosen one."In the streets of UnLondon, a group of a girl, a half-ghost, a talking book, a piece of rubbish, and two living words was unusual, but not very."This book won its way into my heart because of its delightful bizarre weirdness, and stayed in my heart because of its 'sidekick', Deeba Resham. The funny, brash, not particularly sophisticated, snarky young girl with bad grammar, good heart, street-smarts, stubbornness and determination enough for a whole city, with an (Un-)milk carton Curdle as a pet, with complete disregard for tropes and destiny and prophecies and all that fluff. TEAM DEEBA! is the next t-shirt I'm investing in. Seriously.As for the villain of Un Lun Dun - well, some can call it comical, some - heavy-handed environmentalist message. I found it very creepy, especially after wondering over to Wikipedia to read about the London Great Smog of 1952. With all the recent environmental disasters all over the world, the idea of government backing up the monster is easy to swallow, and the ending of this book even more satisfying. Thanks to my very liberal undergraduate education, I tend to take environmental message seriously, even though I do stop short of hugging trees. And given the enormity of threat to UnLondon, I'm willing to forgive a very deux-ex-machina conflict resolution - without it, I don't see a way to even a remotedly happy ending. Miéville wanted to create a modern-day "Alice in Wonderland", to write a fully immersing world for young readers. And, as I came to expect from this incredibly gifted man, he succeeded. I loved it to pieces, and I wish I could go back in time and hand it to my younger self. It is like a younger, less corrupted and more wide-eyed cousin of "Perdido Street Station" (no bug sex in this one, sorry). It's weird to the nth degree, surreal, captivating, stretching imagination to the depths his Chinaness has perfected by now. And with all that, it is refreshingly modern and free of sentimentality and nostalgia for childhood (way too common in books with young protagonists). Please do not be fooled by the "YA" designation - it easily avoids the present-day YA tropes. You will NOT come across insta-love or damsel-in-distress or the too-special-for-her-own-good nonsense here, no ma'am.Miéville appropriately tones down his dictionary-like baroque language for the younger audience (even though I still consulted a dictionary on a few occasions). Far from disappointed, I was actually happy to see that his prose is just as captivating and engrossing even without his trademark thesaurus-like style. It is simply good, no matter how he chooses to write it. Oh, and did I mention he illustrated this book, too? Is there *anything* that man cannot do? If I ever meet him, I will be completely awestruck and speechless.=========================================I adored this book. Actually, it's only the second Miéville that I easily and without hesitation give 5 stars to (and I'm actually quite surprised to see that it's not a Goodreads fan favorite). I will add it to the to-read pile for my (future, hypothetical) daughter and add Deeba Resham to the imaginary list of literary heroines the above-mentioned daughter should be having sleepovers with. In front of 'CHOSEN ONE ROOLZ!' someone had added 'UN-'. 'Look at that,' she said, delighted. 'It's accurate now'.