Un Lun Dun
by China Mieville
"'There it was in the index. "Shwazzy, Sidekicks of the.'' Below that were subheadings, each with a single page reference. 'Clever One,' she read. 'Funny One.'
'Look...' the book said. 'It's just terminology. Sometimes these old prophecies are written in, you know, unfortunate ways...'
'Was it Kath who was supposed to be the clever one?' Deeba said. She thought about how she and Zanna had become friends. 'So... I'm the funny one? I'm the funny sidekick?'
'But, but, but,' the book said, flustered. 'What about Digby? What about Ron and Robin? There's no shame in -'
Deeba dropped the book and walked away. It yelped as it hit the pavement."
Deeba has noticed something strange about her best friend Zanna. There was a picture of her face in the clouds. Animals behave strangely around her. Someone spray painted "Zanna forever!" on the wall. When Zanna and Deeba follow a strangely animated umbrella one night, they leave London and enter Un Lun Dun where Zanna is proclaimed "the Shwazzy": the Chosen One who will help save their city from the Smog. Only things don't happen exactly as they were prophesied and Deeba has to take on her friend's mantle to save the city she has come to love.
This book was pretty insane. And awesome. It took me a while to get used to the world; trash with a life of it's own, city bus airships, men with pins in their heads and clothes of books, houses with forests in it, a man who is a bird with a human body as it's vehicle, "binjas" (trash can ninjas), bookaneers (librarian adventurers), the Umbrellissimo (the man who controls the broken umbrellas that find their way to Un Lun Dun). It helped as soon as I started picturing it animated like a Studio Gibli film.
I loved the way it played with the idea of choice and free will, of prophecy and how it limits us. How those who were not supposed to do things can just say "fuck it" and do them because they need to be done.
This is another juvenile fiction book that does not coddle the reader in any way shape or form. Mieville paints, waltzes and plays chess with words. It doesn't matter that a word is not supposed to be in the vocabulary of a child. There is an incredible sequence with Mr. Speaker, the leader of words, who speaks and Utterlings appear to do his bidding. Deeba cleverly banters with him that words do not always mean what we want and turns his words against him.
Deeba is an amazing heroine. First, she has brown skin, which I am sorry to say is rare in science fiction and fantasy. I was so happy to see a non-white heroine! Second, she is urban London, lower class, and speaks in London slang. Another anomaly in sci fi/ fantasy. Third, she is clever as all get out. She outwits and logics (or un-logics) her way around Un Lun Dun, learning the rules, using them, and breaking them as she sees fit. She goes from being a side kick who just wants to go home to a true heroine and full-blooded citizen of Un Lun Dun.
Yet another kickass heroine who must lead her troops into battle, deal with losses, make mistakes, and outwit terrible enemies. And in the end, when she must choose between Un Lun Dun, and real London, she turns convention on its head!
And I must say, the epilogue is one of those pump-your-fist-in-the-air-yelling-WOOO! moments. Damn, it's a fun ride.