The City and the City - Mieville

The book takes place in two city states, Besźel and Ul Qoma, which share an unusual border that is meshed and confused and there are streets where this mesh occurs (called crosshatched areas) where one building is in one city, the next building in the other city, the third building back in the first city and so on. The citizens of each city are trained from birth to “unsee” those things that are not technically in their city to include the citizens of the other city who might be walking right by them. They learn from dress, and stance, from manner of movement, design styles and architecture, to distinguish those things that are in their respective cities and by default those things which are in the other city and must be “unseen” and "unnoticed’. When these rules are broken and people “intrude” into the other city, a secret police takes control called “Breach” and quickly take care of the situation The criminal whose crime is also called “breach” in this regard, usually never to be seen again.


Detective Tyador Borlú, a resident of Besźel, is investigating a murder in which the body of the victim appears to be a resident of Ul Qoma dumped unto Besźel soil. The case takes Borlú into the system of how the two cities work (and don’t work) and eventually brings Borlú into contact with the clandestine group known as Breach.

What I liked:

Mieville is a favorite of mine though I had been warned that if I was after a satisfying Sci-Fi or Weird Fiction novel, I might be disappointed. Happily, this was not the case. This novel falls more in the realm of Magic Realism in that everything is perfectly ordinary and every day in regards to the setting save for the inexplicably bizarre border shared by these two cities. The story is written in “hardboiled” style. Lovers of detective novels will know this style well. The premise takes some hard hits at our own societal prejudices and at one level it is easy to see that Mieville asks the reader to think about the ways that s/he is trained by culture and societal norms to “unsee” things every day in the very real world. Homeless people. Suffering animals. The disfigured or deformed.

What I didn’t like:

The whole “unseeing” thing got a little over-mentioned. I started counting the number of times he used the word “unsee” or “unsaw” and this took me out of the story which is a no-no in genre fic. I was like, “Ok. I get it. He saw something he shouldn’t be seeing. Enough.”

Would I recommend?

Absolutely. China Mieville is a trully bright star in the realm of spec-fic, which in the last decade has grown dull and boring.