REVIEW: The City & The City by China Miéville
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In twin cities that could be anywhere, creating the illusion that they aren’t that far from the reader – there’s a murder. In the course of a deceptively simple police procedural, Miéville’s characters ask questions about the nature of what we see, what we don’t, and why.
PROS: This book was like gold for me – a mystery by one of my favorite SF authors; the book brings up interesting questions about what we see daily, and the things we choose to see or not see.
CONS: The navigation of Besz’el and Ul Qoma can be difficult until the reader becomes familiar with the mechanics.
BOTTOM LINE: A tightly plotted murder mystery that raises some interesting philosophical and cultural questions.
In my review of Kraken, I called The City & The City a modern version of Through the Looking Glass, and I think my interpretation stands after a re-read. In Besz’el, Inspector Tyador Borlú is investigating a murder with some unique complications.
As with most Miéville books, there is an active political element to the story. With the divided cities of Besz’el and Ul Qoma, the politics are brought down to a local, tangible level. These things are happening for a reason, and it could be that this unfortunate young woman was brought into the crossfire.
Between Besz’el and Ul Qoma is Breach, the area that drives the story. Breach is known by many names, and it has its own secret shadowy police force, themselves simply known as “Breach.” Borlú is forced to go around Breach – both the physical place and the investigating force – to investigate the woman’s murder.
Borlú’s work is his life, and this case demonstrates that. He and Corwi, the young subordinate he drafts in to help, work together to determine who this woman was, and come to some astonishing conclusions.
To take those conclusions to their next logical step, Borlú must go to Ul Qoma. Together with Senior Detective Quatt of Ul Qoma, Borlú reaches some incredible conclusions. Who is Breach? What is the nature of (a) Breach? What, when it comes down to it, is between the city and the city?
As a commentary on the nature of the cities, it is interesting to note that there is very little visible light in this book. There are no sunny days; there is no really pleasant weather to discuss. In fact, “Holy Light!” is used as an expletive. It wasn’t something I noticed on the first reading, but on the second, it seemed an apt summation of the state of the cities and the people in them.
What drew me to a re-read on The City & The City is that the story works on so many levels. It works as a police procedural. It works as an examination of class distinctions. It works as a biting statement on the things that we, as a society, choose to see and to unsee on a daily basis.
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