When you're a kid, it's almost effortless to transport yourself to magical places like Narnia and Oz. These are places that most kids can travel to without the help of a book—places full of fantastic creations and heart-aching beauty. However, there gets to be a mundane point in your life when these worlds are harder and harder to reach without the help of a novelist with a sense of the fantastic. I was truly hoping that China Miéville's Un Lun Dun would provide me with a one-way ticket to this forgotten realm, but he only got me halfway there.
London tweenagers Zanna and Deeba have been experiencing some strange going-ons—clouds that resemble Zanna, strangers calling her "Shwazzy," and a sinister fog that follows the girls around. And one day, they find themselves entering a strange new London, a bizarro world called UnLundun, where forgotten, left-behind things end up. There are all sorts of odd and unusual denizens of this world, including Brokkenbroll, the lord of all broken umbrellas; Obaday Fing, a pin-cushion-headed tailor who constructs garments from unwanted books; and Hemi, a half human/half ghost pickpocket. They all must band together to fight The Smog, a creature that's hell-bent on destroying the world.
It's all very Alice in Wonderland meets Neil Gaiman in a world that's full of puns, rhymes, and wordplay—which, in theory, sounds like a good read, but in actuality, the story twists and the ubiquitous wordplay makes for a novel that's light on imagery and heavy on "boy, isn't this a wacky, fucked-up world." Not to say that there isn't some magic to be wrung from Un Lun Dun: There are moments that are nice indeed. One run-in with a word-spewing monster has the beast creating Utterlings, creatures that resemble the words he's saying, and it's such a cute and refreshing scene that you can almost forgive the novel's other missteps. I really wanted to completely forgive and forget, but I walked away from Un Lun Dun holding a grudge, and wishing I could still get back into Narnia.