SynopsisWhen the body of a murdered woman is found in the extraordinary, decaying city of Besźel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks like a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlu of the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he probes, the evidence begins to point to conspiracies far stranger, and more deadly, than anything he could have imagined. Soon his work puts him and those he cares for in danger. Borlu must travel to the only metropolis on Earth as strange as his own, across a border like no other. The City and The City won the 2010 BSFA award for Best Novel, the 2010 Arthur C. Clarke award for Best Novel (a record breaking third for Miéville), and tied with Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl for the 2010 Hugo award for Best Novel. It has also been nominated for World Fantasy Award and Nebula Awards in the same category.
What Did We Think?
China Miéville is continuously praised for the strength of his world building. This is showcased in The City and The City in a manner which is in some ways more obvious than in other novels. The reason for this is that what Miéville has written is essentially a straight-forward crime plot set against the background of the amazing and yet seemingly real cities of Besźel and Ul Qoma.
The straight crime plot was where at least one reader fell out with the book, as we discussed there is a case for saying the book is infact neither science fiction nor fantasy, despite accolades from both camps! If you don't like crime fiction it's unlikely that you'll love The City and The City as it conforms to many of the clichés of the genre, especially in terms of characters' relationships: we see both the classic detective-sidekick relationship, and the detective-fish out of water foreign ace detective tropes repeated here, as is the fact that the strongest female character is the murder victim who never actually appears on stage as a character (at least a living one).
Despite this potential flaw all agreed that the novel had a good strong story, interesting characters and strong pacing. The complexities of the world Miéville has created, which I dare not describe in too much depth here for fear or ruining someone else's experience, are enthralling and reading the book can be compared to being a detective in novel as you work out the intricacies of the location. That said, the concept is so complex that some struggled with the first third or so of the novel and it was suggested (although not unanimously agreed) that some form of introductory short story which established the city from the point of view of an outsider would have been beneficial. Whether this would have detracted from, or added to, the experience of reading the novel was a point of contention.
Whether there was a better way of presenting the city or not, it was certainly a heavily detailed setting which many of us wanted to return to. There were interesting discussions about the possibility of the place (hence it not really being science fiction or fantasy), referencing experiments by Quirkology and real world examples of cultural fragmentation within urban areas (something which clearly influenced the novel).
Overall it was a enjoyable, even lovable novel, which whilst challanging was a rewarding read. However, it is still very much a piece of crime fiction and if you're not a fan of Raymond Chandler then you likely won't like this. That said, the setting is engaging enough that it could still win you over.
Votes were as follows: 10, 9, 8, 8, 7, 4
On a personal note: despite ranking this book highly and loving the act of reading it. I wouldn't reccomend it as an introduction to Miéville's fiction, largely for the negative reasons outlined above, if you have the time to tackle such a large book - Perdido Street Station is a superior novel and a massively rewarding read.- Glyn
NEW: Watch a video of China Miéville himself talking about The City and The City here.