Review of THE CITY & THE CITY by CHINA MIÈVILLE
The premise of this book is more than a little mesmerizing, though now I empathize with people's difficulty explaining the concept, which evades easy categorization or description.
The book is most commonly shelved in Science Fiction & Fantasy, though the truth is it could be either, both, or neither, depending on how you interpret the imagined world. As per the title, the story centers around two cities, unlike any you might expect. They are interconnected in a highly unusual way, which I find difficult to describe in part because it's a little mind-boggling and in part because how exactly the world works is never fully clarified. The reader remains free to interpret the cities as connected by some fantastical faerie-world type bond, as a future science fiction development, or, perhaps most chilling of all, simply a bizarre, government-enforced division of territory.
In fact, if forced to categorize this book, it belongs more in mystery than in speculative fiction. As thought-provoking as the two cities are, they more or less serve as a backdrop for a murder mystery.
I admit at times the dialogue read as rather exposition heavy and most climatic action scenes had me re-reading them in confusion as to who just did what, but it's all worth it for the ending. The ending weaves the speculative fiction element of the cities deeper into the plot and drops away with a subdued sense of closure and an eerie revelation.