I'd seen some of Ceridwen's reviews of China Mieville, and recently was looking at his page here on goodreads where I saw an interview with him where he discussed this book a bit and the things he had to say about trying to write a mystery story intrigued me so I bought this. I didn't know what to expect really except that it was supposed to be a mystery and that there would probably be a "weird" dimension to it.
I found the book difficult to get into. I didn't really like the writing style much and I had a bit of trouble coping with the first elements of the "weird" as they were introduced. As I picked up on what was going on though and through the rest of the book, I thought the idea of the two cities was really cool. I liked in particular something that I noticed but that Mieville also mentions in the interview published with this book, which was that it's not just how people obey the taboo but also the various ways they break it, often in small ways. I thought it was neat that there were a number of small details that he mentions about how people live with it, such as the example of children throwing a lizard through an area of the other city back into their own. He also talks about little ways that people negotiate the unseeing when they sort of have to recognize an intrusion of some kind. I could just easily imagine a lesser writer perhaps even being afraid to look at the possible problems with this idea let alone actually include them in the story, or make the division so artificial it isn't as interesting. Another example is tourists, how do they handle being there. Furthermore I liked the ways in which I could see aspects of that world in my own experience of cities. I thought it was interesting to see his opinions on allegory and metaphor in the accompanying interview.
As far as the mystery I found it engaging and interesting. I was excited to keep reading and to find out what was going on.
I never really got to like the style of the writing. I also had a lot of difficulty figuring out who was speaking at times due to the way he used paragraph breaks and his habit of following a statement in quotes meant to be spoken by one character with a descriptive statement about the narrator.
Another thing was that I didn't really like the way breach played into the novel. I really liked the way that the overlapping of the cities is sort of mysterious but at the same time is really low key in a way. I thought it was interesting that it was held into place so much by the efforts of the people themselves rather than by some sort of explicit magical force or something. I also liked the idea of breach the action as a concept. What I didn't like was breach as this sort of alien police force with sort of magical powers. It just felt too heavy handed in comparison with the more subtle flavor of the notion of the cities themselves.
Another point was that I ended up a little disappointed that more wasn't revealed about the nature of the cities through the course of the story. I understand from the interview that this was a very conscious choice on his part but it left me hungering. I guess with this though I am pretty willing to see it as more something I was hoping for and didn't get rather than as something that should have been the way I expected.
Another point about the resolution or maybe just another way of saying the same thing was that it was a little disappointing how prosaic the mystery ended up being when there is so much mystery swirling around. I suspect that this was also a conscious part of fulfilling the noire genre concept, in the interview I think Mieville describes the ending (maybe the interviewer) as "deflationary" and that that's a fair assessment. I wasn't horribly disappointed or anything, just looking back feel it could have been better.
On the whole very interesting central idea, engaging mystery, not so great writing style, somewhat disappointing resolution. It wavers between 3 and 4 stars.