Experiments in Ontological Relativism

and Other Brain Farts

Quick ‘n’ Dirty Review: The City & The City

Posted by Jason on July 24, 2009

This is a copy of the review I just posted over on Goodreads. It is in no way an attempt to crosspost to my seldom-updated blog in order to bring you what the kids call “moar content.” Move along.


The City & The City, by China Miéville.The City & The City cover


Although this book is often shelved as science fiction or fantasy, there really are no out-of-the-ordinary elements to the work (except, of course, that it takes place in a city that doesn’t really exist). Even so, however, there’s an overwhelming sense of weird to the novel that appeals to many speculative fiction fans, myself among them. I enjoyed this book immensely, and I’d just like to briefly share a few thoughts.

I think working with a procedural mystery was a very good choice for Miéville. This is certainly the most tightly-plotted of his novels that I’ve read, and I think the form helped steer him clear of places where he might otherwise have fallen prey to rambling. I was worried that the plot might fall apart at the end (especially after having read Iron Council), but it does not. The ending feels very natural, and the solution to the mystery is a satisfying one.

Much ink and many electrons have already been spilled over the novel’s setting, and I don’t really have much to add. What I do find a wonderful stroke, however, is the seriousness with which Miéville treats it. He shows us the cities and their… unorthodox laws through the eyes of its inhabitants, who of course consider them of utmost importance. Because of this, what could have been a cheesy, hard-to-swallow conceit instead feels natural, important, and very real. At all times, the narrative voice maintains a real reverence for and fear of the laws that keep the two cities apart, and never is there a knowing wink or a “yeah, we do this, but it doesn’t really matter” vibe. As a result, I found it very easy to be drawn into these characters’ worldview, to be surprised and horrified when they are.

Miéville’s prose is… well, Miéville’s prose. I know that his style of writing can seem very baroque to many people, and I can certainly sympathize. If you were strongly turned off by his writing before, this book won’t change your mind. If you can tolerate (or even—gasp!—like) it, this novel is well worth the read.


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