Thank goodness for another highly creative, thought-provoking, fascinating, and infinitely readable novel by China Mieville. This is first and foremost a murder mystery. But it is the setting, two cities, Besźe and Ul Qoma, co-existing in the same geographical location, that makes it so intensely satisfying. How can a police detective solve a crime when he is constrained, trained since birth, to “unsee” half of everything going on around him? When it requires going miles out of one’s way to leave one city and enter the other, to open a door that was only inches away from one’s original location? Not to mention the possibility of a third city, Orciny, hiding in the cracks between the first two?
The tone of the story, told from the perspective of Inspector Tyador Borlú, is so matter-of-fact that the introduction of the odd juxtaposition of the Cities seems totally normal. Indeed, don’t we all everyday ignore, “unsee”, that which we do not want to see? It is not that big a step to imagine where, if we step outside those boundaries and actually “see” what is really around us, we would be “breaching”, breaking the (self- or society-imposed) law and subject to whatever horrific measures necessary to ensure the structure we created does not collapse around us?
Borlú may be trying to find the killer of a young archeologist, but his function is to serve and protect, and it is the City and the City that he is protecting in the long run.