If ever there were a book that screamed “No Brainer” at me, as far as whether or not I would read it, this is it. The blurb on the cover made reference to The Phantom Tollbooth. Another on the back made reference to both Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker, and one on the inside front cover of the book mentioned Lewis Carroll. I mean, that’s a list of my favorite book, one of my favorite writers, and a writer who has continually astounded me with his imagination. How could I pass this one up?
If I had to pick just one of those comparisons, though, to best describe the book, it would have to be Clive Barker. Anyone who’s read his Arabat series is going to find some similarities here. There are some dark moments and some wild creations in Un Lundun, and I found myself thinking of Barker’s imagery during much of the book. I can see some of the comparison to The Phantom Tollbooth (there are some puns come to life throughout the book), but the one to Gaiman is a little less convincing. But regardless, this is still an enjoyable book.
The premise behind the book is that, behind London, there exists a world very much like London, but also very much different from it. There are different ways to pass between the worlds, but suffice it to say, the London side of things is the London that we know over here, while the Unlundun side is where you find the fantastic creatures and the wild magic. Deeba discovers Unlundun when her friend, Zanna, finds her way over there through the help of some strange happenings due to a prophecy that Zanna will be the one to free Unlundun from the tyranny of the Smog. And, just to be clear, the Smog isn’t just smog; it’s the Smog, sentient and powerful and all together nasty. If the Smog gets its way, then all of Unlundun will be under its power, and after then, it will move and try to do the same to regular London.
There is a lot of detail in this book. The author creates fantastic creature, only to have them serve as a counterpoint to other normality, or to only be in the book for a chapter or two. The ideas and imagination can be a little overwhelming, as the author strives to put as much as possible in his book. As a result, the story suffers slightly as he seems to pay more attention to the detail than he does to the characters. The characterization does suffer, but not only from his attention to the setting; the characters sometimes seem superficial and two-dimensional, even as they’re working toward the greater good to save Unlundun. It’s a strange dichotomy, and while it does detract from the overall feel of the story, it doesn’t slow down the process as you read it.
This is primarily a children’s/YA novel, and should be approached as one. Its heavy-handed message and dark overtones make it suitable for readers of any age, but ultimately, it should be viewed as a product of its audience. Nevertheless, readers who like imaginative fiction and creative ideas would not be displeased with the book.