Inspector Tyador Borlú works for the police in Besźel. One day they discover the body of a young woman nobody recognises. Together with his colleague he goes about solving the murder and soon finds out that the woman wasn’t actually from Besźel but living in Ul Qoma. Ul Qoma and Besźel have a pretty strained relationship. To outside observers it would seem that they are one city. But inhabitants of Besźel unsee Ul Qoma and the other way round, only noticing their own city. They are in a fragile sort of balance, carefully monitored by a force called Breach.
The fantastic setting is basically just a bonus and not really the point of the story. The City & the City is a murder mystery, a very good murder mystery, but if murder mysteries aren’t your thing – and they aren’t for me – you might be a little underwhelmed.
Don’t get me wrong. The City & the City is an excellent book. Miéville is a great writer, Borlú is a perfect character and the plot is interesting and got me hooked pretty quickly. (And here comes the but…) But for me, the star of the book, the main point of interest was the setting, the two different cultures, the way they were interwoven, the whole concept. And Miéville went the way of the good writer and did what was appropriate for the character telling the story and acted like it was all completely normal.
[Yeah, I just complained that Miéville was a good writer. Sue me.]
Which meant that the main focal point was the murder mystery and those just aren’t for me. I do read them and I do enjoy them from time to time, but mostly they bore me. And even though Miéville kept me guessing, I just couldn’t bring myself to get really invested in the story.
Again, I feel like I have to point out that this is a really, really good book. I just didn’t love it as much as I expected to after Un Lun Dun and all the raving reviews I’d read.
[But the mass paperback Kraken is coming out soon, so that’s good news.]