Miéville is one of the most highly-acclaimed fantasy writers working today, and, in fact, this novel was nominated for several prestigious fantasy/science fiction awards. And yet this is, ostensibly, a police procedural, and Miéville has stated that he was consciously working within the hard-boiled tradition typified by writers like Raymond Chandler. So has he totally abandoned fantasy or what?
Well, not entirely. Miéville has written a real crime novel, but he’s also mixed in some pretty weird stuff. The two titular cities are located in some vaguely-defined space on Europe’s Southeastern edge – somewhere near the Black Sea or the Balkans, perhaps. They are fictional cities, but, in most ways, they are not fantastic ones – they are, in fact, firmly grounded in the realities of crime and dirt and cell phones. However, these cities are neighbors – but not neighbors in any way that could ever really exist. The two cities, Beszel and Ul Qomo, are conjoined twins, occupying much of the same physical space. This block could be in Beszel, but the next block down might be in Ul Qomo. Some blocks might even be in both – which one you’re standing in depends on your perceptions, your ways of thinking. The separation between the cities is enforced by a mysterious, brutal organization known as Breach.
And, of course, the murder investigation at the center of this book spans both cities.
The concept behind this book would probably have been enough to keep me satisfied, but the writing’s also great, and Miéville throws in enough twists and turns to keep things interesting. Not quite a masterpiece, but almost.