There is a positive buzz surrounding China Miéville's upcoming novel, The City & The City. Everyone involved on both sides of the Atlantic are pretty excited about this book, and I couldn't wait to finally sink my teeth into this one.
Although in essence The City & The City is a murder mystery novel, Miéville's latest is still a speculative fiction offering. And as such, I feel that the reader gets the best of both worlds. Mixing the murder mystery elements with just enough fantasy aspects makes for a wonderful read!
The tale begins when Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad must tackle the strange case of the corpse of a murdered woman found in the city of Beszel. Probing deeper and deeper, it gradually dawns upon Borlú that dangerous conspiracies appear to be at work. As the case becomes more and more convoluted, he discovers that his life as well as the lives of those helping him could be at risk. When startling information is unearthed, Borlú must journey to the only other city on Earth as peculiar as Beszel. Crossing a border which is as much physical, psychological, as it is esoteric, Borléu must travel to Ul Qoma, a rich and vibrant city rival to his own decaying Beszel. Forced to team up with a local agent, Borlú needs to find a way to solve this case without causing an international incident. But as their investigation progresses, everything hints at the involvement of Orciny -- the mysterious and fabled place in between.
As is habitually the case with China Miéville, the setting he creates becomes an integral part of the story itself. In The City & The City, Beszel and Ul Qoma end up being protagonists nearly as important as any of the characters. I'd love to elaborate a bit more on both cities and how they interact, on Orciny, on the Breach, and several related topics, but Miéville personally asked that advance reviewers don't spill the beans. Hence, I'll respect his wish and refrain from expounding on the "top notch" worldbuilding. You'll just have to find out for yourself!
The City & The City features the POV of a single character, that of Tyador Borlú. I've said many times that first person narratives can be tricky, yet Inspector Borlú quicky grows on you. So much so that multiple third person narratives would probably have taken something away from the overall reading experience. A bunch of secondary characters such as Corwi, Dhatt, Yolanda, Bowden, and Ashil infuse this novel with even more depth and flavor.
Since the book reads like a murder mystery, expect to stay up past your usual bedtime on more than one occasion, promising yourself just another chapter. The City & The City grabs hold of you from the very start and won't let go.
However, the ending doesn't quite live up to Miéville's superb build-up. Especially since the author is forced to rely on a Perry Mason-esque scene to explain how it all occurred. I found this a bit disappointing, all the more so because Miéville had totally gotten me into this one -- hook, bait, and sinker. Hence, the finale, though unpredictable, wasn't as spectacular as the rest of the novel.
Nevertheless, The City & The City remains a great read that's head and shoulders above most of its peers in the genre. It will doubtless be one of the very best speculative fiction titles of 2009.
The final verdict: 8/10