cover image Un Lun Dun

Un Lun Dun

China Mieville, . . Ballantine, $17.95 (432pp) ISBN 978-0-345-49516-7

Miéville (King Rat ) presents a remarkable bit of world-building. London teenager Zanna (short for Susanna) starts to experience odd occurrences: clouds that resemble her, strangers who call her the "Shwazzy," and graffiti that reads "Zanna For Ever!" Zanna, it turns out, is the Shwazzy (choisi or "chosen one") of the people of UnLondon (the Un Lun Dun of the title), a surreal mirror-image of London ("Abcities have existed at least as long as the cities," a book of prophecy tells her, "Each dreams the other"). Together, Zanna and her friend Deeba wind up in UnLondon, a Gaiman-esque wonderland of ghosts, zombies, walking garbage cans and sentient umbrellas. (Its people have a sense of humor, describing how they disposed of pre-euro currency, and other parallel "abcities" such as "Parisn't" and "No York"). The Smog, a beast borne of London's "smoke from chemicals and poisons" haunts UnLondon, and it seems that Zanna is the one designated to defeat the Smog. But a twist of fate unleashes unforeseen events and the UnLondoners wind up pinning their hopes on Deeba. Miéville employs a few tricks from the experimental novelist's bag (five-words-long chapters, others that end mid-sentence, puns and wordplay galore) but by and large relies on his formidable storytelling skill for this lengthy yet swift-moving tale that, with a wink and a nod, cuts through archetypal notions of fate and prophecy. Highly recommended for Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker fans especially. Ages 12-up. (Mar.)