Stumbling through a secret entrance, Zanna and Deeba emerge in the strange wonderland of UnLondon. Here all the lost and broken things of London end up, and some of its people, too – including Brokkenbroll, boss of the broken umbrellas and Hemi the half-ghost boy. UnLondon is a place where Routemaster buses have legs, where Librarians are ‘bookaneers’, intrepid adventurers dedicated to hunting down lost books, and postmen spend years tracking the mobile addresses of the ever changing Puzzleborough. But the girls have arrived at a dangerous time – UnLondon is under siege by the sinister Smog; it’s a city awaiting its hero. (Synopsis from Goodreads)
I was very excited about this one. Very excited indeed. and parts of this book satisfied my excitement immensely. But, blimey, there are a lot of parts to this book.
When I was introduced to Zanna and Deeba and at the start of this journey, I was grinning at the prospect of these two young heroines, surly school girls plucked from a rather grotty part of north west London, to take on the seemingly impossible challenge of saving the abcity of UnLondon from the all-consuming Smog. What better heroine than a slightly chavvy ass-kicking one? No better in my opinion.
Which was the problem really - all these expectations are bound to leave me a little disappointed as expectations tend to on occasion. For the most part, I found Zanna and Deeba a little bit bland. It's all very very well having surly and uncommunicative typical teenagers as protagonists but that also means they tend to be a bit, well, surly and uncommunicative. I was at least halfway through the book before I really started to warm to Deeba and up until that point, it took a bit of effort to plough my way through the story. But after Deeba gets a bit of gumption and really seems to take to her mission, I began to take to the story a bit more too.
Every time there was a bit of a lull in the action (and there were many times), the author threw in some of the most fantastic imagery I've ever come across in a book. The whole concept of 'moil' - abandoned junk left on the side of the pavement that seeps through to the abcity, the world's most adventurous abseiling librarians, and my personal favourite, the properly terrifying, holy-shizzle-can-I-sleep-with-the-night-light-on-please? Black Windows. I won't go into details, but if you have a phobia of spiders AND double glazing, then you might want to grab your comfort blanket and a vat full of chocolate when you get to that particular bit... And alcohol. I have to admit, I kept drifting away from the plot, but then every time a November Tree or a rabid giraffe cropped up, I wanted to kiss the pages and fall in love with it all over again.
HOWEVER, a constant stream of gorgeous, original ideas is all very well, but I needed something to hang them on and on the whole, this story just didn't match up. When there was talk of a set of god-knows-how many challenges to overcome, my heart sank into my feet, and the constant influx of characters, good and bad, had mixed results. The most fully rounded, Hemi the half-ghost, was a bit of a god send, adding a much needed bit of ironic life to proceedings, but confusing baddies on top of more confusing baddies, cropping up at random times had the result of them being not in the slightest bit scary or interesting. And, unfortunately, the same can be said about the Smog. A great idea, but not a particularly petrifying one and the battle to finish it off for good just felt a bit easy and inevitable.
So, a mixed bag indeed, but this is just my opinion and I know there are many readers who will adore this and justifiably so. With ideas this strong and a central character who comes good in the end (in battle as well as in personality stakes), this is clever, clever, clever with an added high-kicking dustbin's worth of originality. If I was was to use a boy metaphor, which I shall, you can appreciate and recognise all his flaws, but he has enough charming, persuasive words to keep you hooked and lingering in your memory when it all goes tits up.
Can boy metaphors be used for all books from now on?