Thursday, December 12, 2013

The City & the City

The City & the City
By China Mieville
Ballantine, 2009. 312 pgs. Science Fiction

The City and the City is a brilliant piece of noir crime fiction set in two cities, Ul Qoma and Besźel, whose boarders are crosshatched and intertwined in the same physical space. Since the two cities are actually in their own countries, residents of Ul Quoma cannot legally see, hear, or smell a resident of Besźel, even if they are walking side by side, or sleeping in adjacent apartments, unless they legally enter into the other city though a single boarder checkpoint. Inspector Borlú, of the extreme crime squad in Besźel, investigates Mahalia Geary, a foreign student found dead in what appears to be a Besźel street. As Borlú delves deeper into Mahalia Geary's life and studies, he uncovers unsettling truths about the two cities: what separated them in the past, and what keeps them together now.

Though the two city set-up may boggle the mind in a similar way that science fiction can, Mieville never actually steps into that genre. Instead, The City and The City is a classic murder mystery, solved by the grounded and insightful Inspector Borlú, with a setting so clearly and viscerally invoked that the reader will remember the cities as if they once lived there.


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