Sunday, June 03, 2007

Blog Book Club: Whatever Edition

I know I owe you all a review of Un Lun Dun. Consider this a placeholder.

Bottom line: recommended. A bit dark for younger children, but would be okay for 10 and up.

UPDATE: Here are my thoughts on China Mieville's latest book [SPOILERS AHOY] .

Mieville completists (in which category I include myself) should be aware that this is a children's book. In the light of some recent discussion on children's literature, a few things stand out:
  • The protagonist is female
  • She is a person of color (British Asian)
  • She is not conventionally pretty, wealthy, or high-status
  • "Performance of gender" is not used as a proxy for character traits (or really at all)
  • The government is viewed as corrupt and evil and no retrograde hierarchy is put forth as a replacement
A world is in danger and a savior must come, but when prophesies about the identity of the chosen one fail, a new hope rises. Mieville turns meta and gets in some digs at the cliches typically associated with the hero's journey, in particular the role of the sidekick.

In the grand children's book tradition, the child hero succeeds despite, not because of, the adults around her. Deeba, the heroine no one expected, acts on her own feelings of loyalty to friends and family and solidarity. No stand-in for God intervenes in the story to tell her what to do (I hate Aslan). Figures who do attempt to shoehorn her into a conventional quest narrative are viewed as fallible and untrustworthy. Only by subverting convention and remaining skeptical can she defeat the villains.

There are some scary parts in the book, and Mieville's trademark obsessions with filthy cityscapes and repulsive organic forms do manifest themselves in small ways, but this is far from New Crobuzon. Recommended for readers 10-100.
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