As I turned each page, following the clues along with Inspector Tyador Borlú, I was constantly revising what I thought was going on. Usually books like this bore me, because I've worked out the ending early on. I'm just waiting for the characters to catch up and enact the big reveal.
Not so this novel. Borlú and I worked things out at the same time. He was both my guide through this strange world, and my representative within it. Which meant that he did his job very well.
The dead woman is covered in make-up and she was found close to a red light district. The preliminary investigation naturally factored in that she may be a prostitute. That was what the investigators were meant to believe. The whole set up shatters under close scrutiny.
The picture which takes its place is even more sordid. It involves conspiracies, corruption and the ever present threat of Breach. It's a roller-coaster journey, which will keep you turning the page long after you've accepted the reality of the city and the city.
And what realities they are! The deeper into the novel that you go, the more details about the two city states are revealed. Most are cast as casual comments or passing observations, yet they enrich the scene so much. I spent a good five minutes musing on how a war may be staged between these cities, after Borlú mentioned that there had been two.
Did they go elsewhere to do it? Or fight over the border line in Copula Hall? They couldn't fight in the streets for fear of Breach. They wouldn't even be allowed to see the enemy combatants, nor fire a shot into their neighbor's terrain. Even doing so randomly would invoke the appearance of a higher power.
It's questions like this, prompted by irrelevant throwaway minutiae, which elevate this tale from detective story plus unusual setting. It becomes something much more, in which the names of Orwell and Kafka are all too easily evoked as examples of the genre.
China Miéville himself has won the Arthur C Clarke Award three times. He's also netted the British Fantasy award twice. Those trophies can nestle in his cabinet alongside a Hugo, World Fantasy and a BSFA Award.
This particular book has topped best selling lists in various newspapers and sites, including the Amazon Best of the Month title for June 2009. If you haven't read it yet, then I can't recommend it enough.
Now please excuse me. I have to rush and discuss this with Freya!