The City and The City by China Miéville [Book Review]

The City and The City got me thinking of Istanbul situated as it is between two worlds, Asia and Europe. And it has much in common with the cities in China Miéville award winning novel. Located at an undisclosed location on the Balkan the two cities Besźel and Ul Qoma lies intertwined and sometimes even occupying the same place. Besźel is rundown and its people wear grey or colorless clothes, the building are dull concrete and they are still recuperating from tyranny. Ul Qoma is the opposite with a booming economy, progress and colorful people. Much like I imagine how life in Instanbul is when you compare the poor with traditional upbringings to a secular European upper class, both living in different worlds in the same city ignoring and maybe not noticing each others.

In China’s world children are thought from young ages to ignore ‘the other city’ until it becomes instinctive. They even have a special corps ‘Breach’ that handles cases when people by mistake or intent breach the mental veil between the cities. ‘Breach’ is a force in itself outside the ruling councils of either city.

I fancy China was indeed thinking on Istanbul when he wrote this story. You might even go further META into the way we behave in today’s society, living inside our own ‘bubble’ of ‘reality’ ignoring the people outside it, even if they live in the same city, state, planet as we do. That’s the setting.

The plot starts as a classic murder mystery that unravels into something significantly larger. The body of a murdered young woman is found in an Alley in Besźel and out protagonist Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad is assigned the case. He quickly becomes convinced that a breach has been committed so the case takes him into the other city where he develops a friendship with his counterpart there. The contrasts between the two worlds are made clearer by the two partners own lack of knowledge about each other’s cities.

This is my first China Miéville novel and I found it very accessible and easy to read. This is not really the usual science fiction for me. I prefer technology and space related science fiction. I still found this an entertaining and fun read. The murder mystery in itself might have been enough for a worthy novel but here the setting add both dimensions and intrigue to the story.

I can tell you I found The City and The City to be a great book, maybe even a future classic. It might not be for everyone, it seems to have a hate it or love it impact on people. I loved it but it was not the book on top of my Hugo vote (nor was the other winner).


Title: The City and The City
Author: China Miéville
Genre: Alternative Reality
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Del Rey 2009 | Macmillan | Pan
Copy: Hugo voter package

Order from: Amazon US | UK | B&N | sfbok

New York Times bestselling author China Miéville delivers his most accomplished novel yet, an existential thriller set in a city unlike any other–real or imagined.

When a murdered woman is found in the city of Beszel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks to be a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he investigates, the evidence points to conspiracies far stranger and more deadly than anything he could have imagined.

Borlú must travel from the decaying Beszel to the only metropolis on Earth as strange as his own. This is a border crossing like no other, a journey as psychic as it is physical, a shift in perception, a seeing of the unseen. His destination is Beszel’s equal, rival, and intimate neighbor, the rich and vibrant city of Ul Qoma. With Ul Qoman detective Qussim Dhatt, and struggling with his own transition, Borlú is enmeshed in a sordid underworld of rabid nationalists intent on destroying their neighboring city, and unificationists who dream of dissolving the two into one. As the detectives uncover the dead woman’s secrets, they begin to suspect a truth that could cost them and those they care about more than their lives.

What stands against them are murderous powers in Beszel and in Ul Qoma: and, most terrifying of all, that which lies between these two cities.

Casting shades of Kafka and Philip K. Dick, Raymond Chandler and 1984, The City & the City is a murder mystery taken to dazzling metaphysical and artistic heights.