Two city-states in a present-day but fictional middle east: Besźel and Ul Qoma.
The rules are complex, yet simple:
- Each of these cities intertwines one another.
- Any particular patch of land may be crosshatched, and thus shared, or entirely one or the other.
- Citizens are obligated to protect the sanctity of their borders and thus must unsee the other state’s buildings, people, and cars.
- When that sanctity is broken, Breach has occurred. A mysterious third party will intervene and handle the breach. Typically breachers are not seen again.
This complex, yet simple arrangement comes into sharp reality during Tyador Borlú’s investigation of a cross-border, but not breaching, murder. The city & the city is a police procedural murder mystery set across a very unique pair of cities with even more unique rules that govern them.
Why is this on our bookshelf?
The City and The City is filed in fantasy at my local library. It has redefined what a fantasy novel might look like. The rules around the intertwining of these cities is unlike anything we know (thus the fantasy designation) and figuring them out took much of the novel and some serious thought. The City and the City was the 2010 Hugo Award winner (tied with The Windup Girl).
Rating (5 stars)
China sets up a unique environment in which to place some grittily human characters. He then sets them loose on a murder mystery that plays with and tests this environment. These rules are a mind-bender, but China sets it up in a way that is easy to follow along with. The ending is climactic and has unexpected twists.
Read this book:
If the idea of two streets existing simultaneously in two countries (while not really being in one or the other) is an intriguing idea.
Don't Read this book:
You like your murder mysteries without confounding variables.
Once you're done, do this:
See if you can unsee.