Friday, October 15, 2010

Audiobook Review: The City & The City

(This review contains no significant spoilers.)

The City & The City is the second audiobook written by China Miéville that I've read in as many weeks. Below is my review of it.

The Setup

The novel takes place in two small, fictitious European city-states: Besźel and Ul Qoma. These two countries are distinct, with different governments, cultures, and languages, but they share the same geographic space. The citizens of each country are trained from an early age to "unsee" and "unhear" the citizens of the other. The only way to legally travel from one to the other is to pass through the the official border crossing. The greatest taboo in these cities is "breach," the act of overtly ignoring the sovereignty of the two nations.

Miéville has said that he wants to write a novel in every genre. The City & The City is his entry into the mystery genre. Its story follows, in first person, the investigation of the death of a young woman. The crime, as you might expect, is not as simple as it first appears.

Interestingly, unlike, as far as I can tell, the rest of the author's work, this story contains no science-fiction or fantastic elements, beyond the mere existence of such impractically constrained metropolises.

What I Liked
  • I found the concept fascinating, and the author does an amazing job of exploring the premise and following it to its logical conclusion.
  • Although the story takes place in the real world and in contemporary times, the level of worldbuilding is on par with that in Perdido Street Station. The geographies and cultures of the two cities are richly realized.
  • The plot---the investigation of a crime---is quite interesting, though, for me, it takes a backseat to the setting as far as my interest is concerned.
  • The narrator, John Lee, does just as amazing a job with this book as he did with Perdido. each character has his or her own voice and accent. Even his American accent is quite good. His Canadian seemed a little dodgy, though; it sounded almost Scottish to me.

What I Disliked
  • You know, I really can't think of anything I disliked about this story. I was somehow expecting a fantastic element, but, I don't think this story needs one.

The Bottom Line

Overall, I give the audiobook of The City & The City 9.5 out of 10. It is an interesting story set in a fascinating world and brought to life by an impressive voice actor. What's not to love?


  1. what a fascinating concept for a book, it is almost possible to see this working in reality - where we don't notice certain things happening within our own cities.

  2. Think I'm going to have to give this one a listen! I'd like to invite you to post links to your reviews at a site that's made to index links to audiobook reviews. A friend and I set it up a few weeks ago to help promote bloggers' audiobook reviews. In 2 months, 70 bloggers have posted over 1,000 links to their reviews. Hope you'll join us at Audiobook Jukebox

  3. Susan,

    Thanks for the invitation. I'm working on a couple of more reviews at the moment. When I get those done, perhaps I'll upload them to your blog.

  4. Thanks - I hope you do! It's only the links to your reviews that are posted - not the actual review - readers must visit your site to see the review. It's just a place for audiobook enthusiasts to share links to their audiobook reviews. So far, we've had visitors from 52 countries check out the links.