The City & the City by China Mieville

The City & the City begins like a typical hard-boiled detective novel: the body of a young woman dumped on a back street, a police detective protagonist tasked with finding out who she was and what happened to her.  The setting is the fictional, vaguely eastern-European city-state of Besźel, but the trappings seem strictly realist.  It soon becomes apparent, though, that Besźel has an unusual relationship with its sister city, Ul Qoma—one that requires citizens of each to vigilantly maintain a practiced obliviousness of the other’s influence.  To say more would give the game away, but what appears to be a routine murder case grows to implicate the centers of political power and dissent in both cities, and draws the characters closer to the secret that may lie at the heart of their unique history.

Like the best science fiction and fantasy, The City & the City by China Mieville presents an outlandish idea and takes it seriously, in the process teasing out the human implications of its scenario and its echoes of our own world.  As I read I was not only caught up in the plot, but found myself pondering the ways I willfully blind myself to aspects of my environment I don’t like.

This author is known in his other books for an overt H.P. Lovecraft influence, and a tendency toward meta-fictional messing about…but if you’re like me and neither of those things are your cup of tea, you’ll still enjoy The City & the City.  Fantasy, mystery, political thriller—this book isn’t fully any of those, but it’s a great read for fans of them all.

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