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4.3 out of 5 stars
Un Lun Dun
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72 of 78 people found the following review helpful
on February 13, 2007
Format: Hardcover
On my son's tenth birthday he will get this book. This will happen in a little over seven years from now.

Mieville has ventured into YA fiction with Un Lun Dun and it is a tremendous accomplishment within the genre. This is the story of a journey to another London that exists near the one we are familiar with. But things are different and there are some big problems for the two young ladies who find themselves in Un Lun Dun. Mieville's hallmark - imaginative monsters - is here and they exist in wonderful, fanciful piles. His punning creations are groan-worthy and painted a number of rueful smiles on my face. Mieville wants readers to have the joy of surprise, so I'm keeping quite about the details. But I guarantee you will never think of giraffes the same way ever again. There are also marvelous characters and companions, all vivid and memorable.

Un Lun Dun subverts your typical fantasy formula. The chosen one doesn't seem to be getting it done, prophecies are falling apart, and quests are veering outside of expectations. Mieville has been both lauded and slammed for being a "message" author. The message for youngsters is pretty straightforward - don't wait to be saved by the hero, question authority, try hard, and with the help of good friends and you can change things for the better.

Mieville has to this date been a very adult writer but he reigns in both the violence and the vocabulary to truly make this a YA title. There is violence and danger, but it is not excessive. He does keep the sense of excitement through the book and the pacing is very brisk. Un Lun Dun is not a departure for Mieville; he is just doing for young adult fantasy what he has already done for regular fantasy. He has given us a smart, non-formulaic, but always entertaining book.
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on March 15, 2007
Format: Hardcover
A great many YA novels attempt a modicum of maturity but fall far short and end up being what would appropriately be termed children's literature. The level of condescension present in many of them is almost offensive, suggesting that young adults cannot be subtle nor intuitive readers. Mieville takes a remarkable stand against this trend and delivers a novel that is enchanting and challenging to multiple levels of readers. His language is beautiful, challenging, and most importantly playful.

As with most of his novels, the setting of ULD is as much a character as is Deeba or any of her party. The inhabitants of the abcity Unlundun are rich in character and are conjured from the simplest of ideas into unforgettable characters--a conscious milk carton most of all. Mieville paints a city whose denizens force the readers to reconsider our lives: fated observer or willful participant? This is not a comfortable book to read, and readers will find themselves pausing frequently to compare their own cities with Mieville's abcities.

The social and political commentary is subtle yet insistent. Young readers with a growing awareness of social and political ideologies would benefit from reading this novel with careful consideration of the historical context. Mieville's own leftist political ideologies are not overt, but they do beg themselves to be considered in light of the turmoil in Unlundun, a turmoil not unlike what is developing (or is peaking) in our own world.

Subversion is a central theme, and Mieville does a masterful job of not only refusing to bow to the templates of the genre but of creating an entirely new one: heroes aren't heroic; prophecies aren't prophetic; and words aren't our own.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on March 13, 2009
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I'm a Londonophile--no, I'm not even certain that's a word, but it describes the feeling: a deep and abiding love of the city of London, which, since I don't live there, often manifests itself in my frequent devouring of books and movies that are set in, and especially celebrate, London. I'm especially fond of the subgenre of fiction "urban fantasy"--outrageous and fantastic events and characters set against the familiar backdrop of the Big Smoke, situations and events that illuminate our ordinary everyday world with a magical light. Among my favorite almost-otherworldly Londons: J. K. Rowling's "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," Philip Pullman's "The Ruby in the Smoke," G. P. Taylor's ""Wormwood" and (an obvious but oft-overlooked choice in the genre) Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol." Recently I've added China Miéville's wonderful, moody and spooky "King Rat" and "Perdido Street Station" to my library, and was delighted to discover he has also written "Un Lun Dun," a wonderfully nuanced and shadowy young adult novel that celebrates the joy and diversity of the city on the Thames.

Miéville's foray into young adult lit from his usual venue of adult fiction gives us an interesting and effective result. Like the best YA books, this is a novel that adults will appreciate too for its intelligent, lively wordplay and clever, imaginative characters and landscape--the best sort of "reading together" novel, and if you are sharing the volume with an older preteen or young teen you may find yourself battling for who gets possession of it at any time. A swift but rich reading experience, "Un Lun Dun" combines an eccentric anthropomorphic cast (Kung fu dustbins! Chattering books! Scheming smog!) with the familiar and comfortable quest adventure and the gentle but triumphant message to stand up for what's right and sometimes you can only rely on yourself.

When I do visit London every few years, one of my favorite tourist activities is to simply stroll around the city, surveying buildings, streets, gazing down mews and alleyways, looking for the unusual and eccentric to admire and photograph. My greatest delight is spotting something that I consider might not be usually seen by a passerby--an interesting and cryptic graffiti, an elaborate bas-sculpture on a wall, a funny or outlandish sign or notice. "Un Lun Dun" will now have me looking twice at discarded umbrellas and milk cartons, scrutinizing them for a sign of movement, looking for the shadows that are peeping out from an alternative UnLondon, and the adventure that lies within.

Many other Amazon reviewers have given great recommendations for books that you may like if you enjoy Un Lun Dun (or, vice versa!): popular fantasy novels like "Neverwhere" or fantastic movies such as "Spirited Away." I'd like to add my own recommendations--a trio of young adult novels of London: Tom Becker's "Darkside," Charlie Fletcher's' "The Stoneheart Trilogy," and Philip Reeve's "Mortal Engines"--all charming and fantastic alternate versions of London. But I especially recommend the recent new "Doctor Who" television series (especially the first season featuring Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper). For reasons of television production economy, Who has always had episodes set in Britain, but this new series connects the Doctor's companion Rose to her life and family in London, bringing her and the Doctor back again and again, not only to fight monsters and aliens under the London Eye or spaceships crashing into Big Ben, but also for the simple joy of eating a basket of hot salty chips--that's French fries to you and me--while wandering down the street. It's that mixture of the mundane and the fantastic that "Doctor Who"...and "Un Lun Dun" does so well, bringing alive an already-vibrant city with an air of adventure and magic.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
It's been a long time since I have been this conflicted over a novel.

UN LUN DUN, by the excellent China Miéville, is a Alice in Wonderland-style tale about two girls living in London who are mysteriously transported to Un Lun Dun (UnLondon...get it?). One of the girls, Zanna, is the Prophesied One who is supposed to save Un Lun Dun from a disaster. The other girl, Deeba, is the Prophesied Sidekick (seriously, it's mentioned in the glossary of a talking book they encounter).

UN LUN DUN is a YA novel that feels...UnYA. The two girls feel like they belong in a Middle-Grade book, the story feels YA, yet the writing has a tendency to flirt with the normal adult-level fiction. This is China Miéville, and normally this means we get the truly dark and bizarre. With UN LUN DUN, it felt like Miéville was really trying to not be so dark and twisted, but perhaps he tried too hard. The reason Miéville is so awesome is specifically for his imaginative ability to create the disturbing. There really is none of that here, and I was a bit put off. However, UN LUN DUN does have its moments. Most of the imaginative aspects are built around word-play, and they all work surprisingly well. Unbrellas (yes, that is an "n" not an "m," and they are alive), Black Windows (window frames with spider legs), Parakeets (they have a feather shaped like a key), ninja trash bins (complete with lids and nunchucks), and a dozen uses of the word "smog." Those are just an incredible small sampling of the crazy inhabitants of Un Lun Dun. To help out your imagination, the book it littered with interior illustrations. They are awesome, and I wish more novels had them (not to mention Miéville did them himself).

The best part about UN LUN DUN is when you realize who the real hero is (and how fitting it is), and how the main characters go about their heroic quest. Miéville does a fantastic job in breaking the rules here (I know, vague. No spoilers, remember?).

Are you confused as to whether I liked or disliked the novel? For a while I was too. However, the more I thought on it--like most of Miéville's novels--the more I found that I was charmed by it. It was so bizarre, and so different, that I couldn't help but appreciate it. Miéville mentions that he got a lot of advice from Neil Gaiman. I can tell, and while UN LUN DUN isn't as strong and Gaiman's work (this novel will most often be compared to his novel, NEVERWHERE), it is still worth borrowing or the price of a cheap paperback (what I mean is, don't pay more than $10 for it). Though, I've got to say, the hardback is stunning in appearance. One of the most beautiful, unique covers I've seen in a while.

Recommended Age: 14 and up. It's hard to say here because the novel is all over the place.
Language: Perhaps one word. Nothing to worry about here.
Violence: Not really, which is odd for Miéville. Just a lot of...strange.
Sex: No. Once again, odd for Miéville. You shouldn't be reading this book for that kind of content anyway. Move along.
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58 of 74 people found the following review helpful
on March 20, 2007
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I am extremely impressed with China Mieville's adult fiction. Although I'm an adult, I've read many young adult/YA fantasies by other authors with pleasure, so I assumed I'd love this one. But after a while, I found it tedious. This was partly because this is really more a book for children, not adults young or old.

The good thing about Un Lun Dun is that it is a kaleidoscope of endlessly inventive images, one after another, after another, and yet more. The bad thing is, that's all this book is. The plot device, that everything will be the opposite of what it seems to be--because this is UNLondon--struck me as clever at first, but became predictable well before the end. At over 400 pages, this book may simply be too long.

But there are other problems with this as a YA book. The characters are flat. Many of them are simply clever images. And many of those are sidekicks destroyed in the battle of good against evil; but no one, not even the characters closest to them, cares; because they are instantly replaced with other sidekicks who are different and equally clever images.

To sum up, the effect is that of an animated cartoon rather than a book--lots of whacky ideas, a breakneck pace, a mimimal plot, and flat characters. Un Lun Dun would, in fact, work much better as a cartoon/animated film. I hope someone makes that film.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
Zanna has something that other girls like. She's unique, pretty and confident without being cocky at an age when insecurity combines with the desperate need to conform. It's no wonder that other girls find her intriguing, especially Deeba who is shy and insecure, intelligent but average. What is surprising is that animals and strange people around the city seem also to find her fascinating, and call her "Schwazzy." When a broken umbrella appears to be surveilling her house she drags the reluctant Deeba along to investigate and they find themselves in what appears to be an utterly different but strangely familiar alternate London, where all that is abandoned in London has a new life below. There are a number of twists in the story and part of the excitement is how it all unravels so I won't say more.

The basic concept of an upside-down mixed up alternate reality is not entirely novel -- it is similar in some ways to Wonderland (where Alice goes) or to the strange world of The Phantom Tollbooth, and even more so to Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere -- but China Mieville gives this idea new life in this remarkable and exciting novel. Unlike Neverwhere, this one is pitched at a younger crowd -- my 12 year old daughter loved it, though I wouldn't recommend it for most children younger than 10 -- but is fascinating and clever and even scary enough to keep happy the same kind of adults who read Harry Potter to their children because they can't get enough. I enjoyed the novel quite a bit -- was taken by the story, and delighted by the endless cleverness of the creatures and places that inhabited Mieville's alternate London (Un Lun Dun). Highly recommended for readers of Harry Potter, Diana Wynne Jones, Neil Gaiman's YA fiction (Coraline), and other mind-bending fantasy for young readers.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover
China Mieville's Un Lun Dun came highly recommended by a friend who felt that she hadn't enjoyed a SciFi-Fantasy read so much in a long time. So although I had heard mixed reports I was keen to read it for myself.

The story follows the fundamental Fantasy plot--there is a world in mortal danger from the villainous Smog and a quest to save it, involving a diverse party of "heroes", some likely and some unlikely in terms of their characters. The world in question is Un-London, an 'alternate London' that overlaps and to an extent reflects the city in our world but is still a separate 'verse. The feel of the story and the world is probably as much Oz/Yellow Brick Road as it is Alice Through the Looking-Glass--there is the Looking Glass sense of oddity and distorted reality, but Deeba, Un Lun Dun's heroine, also bears a considerable resemblance to Dorothy. Like Dorothy, Deeba wants to get home to her family, she acquires a small, "dog like" companion (Curdle) and others that bear some resemblance to the scarecrow (Obaday Fing, the paper man with needles and pins hair), the Tin Man (Conductor Jones) and the Lion (Skool). Admittedly I am may be stretching this resemblance a little, but even Mortar, the head "Propheseer" did rather remind me of the Wizard in Oz.

Throughout the book, Mieville's story operates at two levels: there is the traditional quest--and there is the deliberate turning upside down of the more familiar elements of that tradition. To say too much here would be a "spoiler" but suffice it to say that the prophecies of a chosen hero are quickly debunked as are some of the more traditional stereotypes of fantasy fiction, such as the wise guide and the valiant Robin Hood type anti-hero.

This could have been refreshing and I think that if Mieville had pulled it off it would have been--but he doesn't quite manage it. It may be that humor, Terry Pratchett style, would have been a better vehicle for this sort of endeavor: it may simply be that trying to subvert the quest paradigm and carry it to a successful conclusion was just too difficult for anyone to pull off. But whatever the reason, Un Lun Dun did not quite work for me--despite my friend's glowing recommendation.

The reason I say "not quite" is that Un Lun Dun still held positives for me. I did not find it a thrilling read but there were no obvious continuity errors and Mieville's prose is vigorous and he kept the story moving along (a little too much imo, but more on that below). I also think that it would be hard to match this book for sheer inventiveness. The whole of Un-London reflects inventive imagination on the grand scale and the world and its inhabitants are vividly imagined and described, but ...

But ...

The reason Un Lun Dun did not work for me is that although the story was fast paced and inventive, I was left feeling that less could have been more in both these areas. As a reader, I felt that I was being rushed from one vivid and inventive and 'wow-that's-amazing-but I-can't-quite-take-it-in-moment-because the next-is-already-coming-up-and-omg-it's-here" to the next. And wait--there's more again! So much so that I never got fully drawn into the story, part of me was always left on the outside looking in.

And there were so many characters--many of whom simply flashed by and were never revisited--and even with Deeba, the main character, I never really walked in her shoes. There was always this sense of being "told" what Deeba felt, rather than feeling it with her, and most of the other "major" characters were never really fleshed out. And to be a great read, a book's just got to have characters that engage me--even if it is only to thoroughly dislike them. But in this case I just couldn't care enough to dislike anyone, or particularly like them either. Mieville's characters didn't "live", and for me that was the book's fatal flaw.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 1, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Zanna and Deeba are typical 12-year-old girls living normal lives in English Suburbia. Typical, that is, if having dogs bow their heads to you and watching umbrellas crawl up the side of a house in an attempt to break in is typical. The odd happenings surrounding the girls' daily lives seem relaxed and ordinary after they follow a barely visible trail on the streets of London, through a random doorway and down some stairs. After that, everything is strange, bizarre and definitely not commonplace. The girls have entered Un Lun Dun.

Un Lun Dun (or UnLondon) is a world of lost souls living, it would seem, below the hectic streets of modern London. It is a place where broken things, broken people and broken dreams have gone to await a long-called-for savior.

British science fiction/fantasy writer China Miéville has penned a classic of children's fantasy with UN LUN DUN. Full of endless magic, long-legged monsters, talking umbrellas and mischievous dark clouds, this book is an excellent introduction to the world of science fiction. It is scary enough to keep readers, young and not-so-young, on the edge but friendly enough to provoke laugher and smiles.

Miéville is no stranger when it comes to weaving an intricate and fascinating tale of science fiction. With several hugely popular adult sci-fi books already published and a mantle full of awards (such as the British Fantasy Award and two Arthur C. Clarke awards), Miéville has now set his sights on writing a fantasy book for young adults and, by all accounts, has succeeded. In addition to a storyline that never stops pulling you forward, UN LUN DUN is supported with frightening but somehow comforting illustrations of the countless individuals who inhabit the fantasy world that the girls have entered.

While each of the characters is highly imaginative and intricately detailed, it is the sheer magnitude of them --- and their traits --- that will be daunting to the average teenager. Even adults will find themselves with pen and paper trying to sort out who's who and whether they can, or should, be trusted. It is this seemingly endless list of characters, from a tailor with a pin-cushion head to man-eating giraffes, that brings the reader into a new world in a way that only Miéville can. The imagery works as well on the older set as it does on children, thus guaranteeing UN LUN DUN a place on many bestseller lists.

--- Reviewed by Simon King
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I chose Un Lun Dun from the Amazon Vine program because it looked different and quirky, and possibly reminiscent of Roald Dahl. Normally I would go for something aimed at a bit higher age group, but this one looked intriguing, so I thought I'd give it a whirl. And what a whirl it was! Un Lun Dun, or London through the looking glass, is filled with fantastic characters and odd events and lots of subtle humor.

When odd things begin happening around Zanna and her best friend Deeba, the two at first try to ignore things, but when they discover a secret way out of London into the world of Un Lun Dun, they realize that Zanna is part of a prophecy that is coming true. Zanna, however, doesn't exactly seem up to the task and tactics must shift in order for the prophecy to be fulfilled. But what will happen if Zanna doesn't play her part? What if it all goes wrong?

While I normally don't go for this sort of tale, I have to say I did enjoy Un Lun Dun for its colorful characters and especially for its anti-hero, Zanna. I suspect that my own comfort zone kept me from fully getting into the prophecy tale; I wanted things to move along a bit faster than they did, and I wanted Zanna to be able to step up to the task. However, I can definitely recommend Un Lun Dun to readers of perhaps ages 8-12, and especially for those who are open to odd creatures and even odder scenarios. Fans of The Neverending Story will like this one.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on February 13, 2007
Format: Hardcover
A fine move by Mieville into somewhat new territory. This is, in my opinion, his tightest novel yet, more reminiscant of King Rat than the the Bas-Lag titles. Compared to his other work, 'Un Lun Dun' is obviously geared to young adults (a tough market), but is extremely enjoyable for anyone who likes a well-written, imaginitive and a truly weird yarn. While Mievilles earlier books have a very open-ended feel, 'Un Lun Dun' wraps itself up nicely and really puts a fine twist on the typical 'chosen-one fullfills her destiny' cliche'. As usual, you can't go wrong with this fellas fine and bizarre writing.
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