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The City & The City

I just finished reading China Mieville’s novel The City &The City.  This is the first Mieville book I’ve read since I finished The Scar and promptly threw the book across the room.  I had slogged through 900 pages, and it was basically Wagner’s Ring Cycle.  At the end I was precisely back to the same point as was at the beginning.  Nothing had changed – neither the characters nor the situation.  I also didn’t like the characters very much.

This latest novel was for me a vast improvement.  It’s a fascinating analysis of “divided cities” a la Jerusalem, and he constructs a fascinating society where people are literally trained from birth to “unsee” other people, buildings, cars, etc.  The framework is a murder mystery and the hero is a homicide detective working the case.  There’s a number of very likable characters who you come to care about.  I would have liked him to make the situation a bit more clear to me a bit earlier in the book, but it’s a minor quibble.

There is a wonderful C runner about an archeological dig that keep unearthing bronze spear points, and mysterious devices constructed of gears that seem inappropriate next to a bronze point.  People think the gears are some kind of technology, but no one can figure them out.  This was so interesting that I wanted that to become the focus of the book.  It was ultimately more interesting than the actual mystery, and I hope he’ll return to this world and tell me the story of these ancient artifacts.  

As a mystery Mieville did a nice job of not hiding the murderer, but putting the individual front and center.  The motive for the killing was a bit too psychological for my taste, but it was credible.  I was also a bit frustrated because he puts a weapon on stage and then never fires it — literally.

My biggest quibble was over the mysterious organization called Breach that deals with situations where people violate the “unseeing” rules, and have to be disciplined.  At points Breach seemed almost ninja-like, but when we ultimately meet them they’re just bureaucrats and I found that unsatisfying.

The ending was quite bitter-sweet because of what happens to our detective.  I really liked him so I was sorry he ended up in such an isolating situation.
Overall this is a really good book with a fascinating premise and society, and good characters.

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