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Literature / Un Lun Dun

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A fantasy novel for young adults by China Miéville.

UnLondon is the shadow of the city it is named for, one of many abcities that collect the mildly obsolete detritus left behind by the citizens of London. UnLondon, and other cities like it, are places where the broken and neglected discover new purpose. It is a world in danger. The Smog threatens to choke the life out of every living thing it can find, to feed itself and drown the world in darkness.

Enter Zanna and Deeba, two ordinary girls who find themselves in UnLondon after a string of events lures them there. Zanna is the abcity's chosen one, the Shwazzy, who will ultimately destroy the Smog and save UnLondon. Unfortunately, the Smog knows this as well as the good guys, and injures Zanna before she can fulfill her destiny. Deeba, the Funny Sidekick, takes on the quest meant for Zanna. Helped by an abandoned milk carton and talking book of prophecy, Deeba must save the abcity and get back to regular London before everybody back at home forgets she even existed.

This book inverts, subverts and plays straight every prophecy trope in existence and is even the Trope Namer for The Unchosen One.

Provides Examples Of:

  • Abnormal Ammo: The UnGun. Very abnormal, to the point that it probably doesn't even have bullets. To elaborate, it takes whatever you stick in the chambers and magnifies whatever it is. In Deeba's words, whatever it's loaded with, it uses well. For example, a shard of brick in the chamber will create a building as a prison, and hair will cause smombies to literally explode with hair. And then UnFires when it's empty, acting as a huge vacuum; hence, the Smog is afraid of nothing and the UnGun.
  • But Now I Must Go: Subverted. After the final battle, Deeba is given the decision to go home or stay (since eventually her friends and family would forget her prolonged staying via phlegm effect), and decides to go home. Then, she surprises everyone by saying she'll visit often, chiding them for failing to realize how easy it is to cross between the worlds.
  • Cats Are Magic: Subverted. Cats are the most stupid and least magical of all animals. Dogs, foxes, fish and various birds are shown to be sapient and able to cross the boundaries between worlds, but cats are too concerned with looking cool to learn anything of value.
  • Creepy Old-Fashioned Diving Suit: Skool from animates an old diving suit as a way to get around... inverting the trope, as Skool is an intelligent school of fish that found one of these suits, filled it with water, and uses it as a way to explore the surface. Skool's silent, looming presence still lives up to the trope, despite being one of the good guys.
  • Cumulonemesis: The Smog, it's more than capable of suffocating people or animating their dead bodies. However, it's big enough to be its own ecosystem whose inhabitants work with its agenda.
  • Dungeon Bypass: Deeba decides there's no time for that in the search for the UnGun, after spending a day and losing a party member trying to get the Featherkey the first of seven steps, and skips right to the end of the line.
  • Everything's Deader with Zombies: Or Smombies. Dead bodies animated by the Smog inside them.
  • Fantastic Racism: The story features largely irrational racism between living beings and ghosts; specifically, the ghosts supposedly steal bodies. Woe to the only known half-breed: everybody mistrusts him. All the more noticeable as the inhabitants of the eponymous city otherwise display extraordinary diversity and tolerance.
  • Hijacked Destiny: Defied, when she returns the Un Lon Don claiming the Smog is still dangerous Deeba is accused of trying to do this for Zanna's destiny as The Shwazzy but she just wants to stop the Smog because it hurt her friend.
  • Nigh-Invulnerable: The Smog, of the Made of Air variety.
  • Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: Trash Bins + Ninja = The best pun ever!
  • Non-Human Sidekick: Curdle the milk carton.
  • Off the Rails: Starts when The Chosen One gets bonked over the head and loses her memory of all this, then invoked by Deeba because she deduced (correctly) there's no way to stay on the rails and they didn't have time for fetch quests.
  • One-Paragraph Chapter: The chapter entitled "The Powerful Resurgence of the Everyday" consists entirely of the sentence "Of course she was wrong."
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: They can mate with the living.
  • Our Zombies Are Puppets For Sentient Smog
  • Painting the Medium: Some minor usage:
    • Mr. Speaker speaks in small caps.
    • The boat used in the final battle is the frame of a car turned upside down; hence, it's called a "ɹɐɔ." Lampshaded: "A ... rack? I can't say it."
      • "Easiest way is to bend over and say car."
  • Plot Coupons: Played straight, then subverted. Deeba gets the first plot coupon, then realizes that it would waste time and people to get the 5 unnecessary ones, so she goes straight to the UnGun. Double-subverted when Deeba realizes she actually needed the plot coupons, but she is able to work around that.
  • Prophetic Fallacy: Mistakes in the prophecy result in the one thing the Book thought a misprint actually being correct.
  • Prophecy Armor: Defied Zanna gets seriously hurt by the Smog and loses her memory.
  • Punny Name: Pretty much the whole point of the book. Abcities, utterlings, Binja, the UnLondon-I, the Black Windows (who live in Webminster Abbey), the list goes on.
  • Roof Hopping: Subverted by the Slaterunners: "You thought there were houses under the roofs? That would be madness! Just because we want to live free doesn't mean we shouldn't consider safety."
  • Screw Destiny: Used successfully by the Big Bad in removing The Chosen One from the equation. Would have succeeded, had Deeba not pulled it herself and become The Unchosen One.
  • Shock and Awe: Conductor Jones. Note the conductor part.
    • As he explains in the book, he's a bus conductor; he conducts himself with dignity, conducts his passengers safely on their journey, but there is a third thing those who take the oath learn to conduct: electricity.
  • Sixth Ranger Traitor: Lecturn. To be fair, she DID know Deeba was right, that Brokenbroll needs to be stopped and came to join her with an army of Binja, but she caved in fast when believing all hope was lost and gave away the UnGun to him.
  • Space Whale Aesop: Though it's by no means the main theme of the book: "Don't pollute, or else the smog will evolve sapience and take control of people's minds, making them destroy a fantasy world and then ours."
  • Spoiler Opening: Of a sort with the North American cover. Blonde Zanna is the Decoy Protagonist, and while the girl on the cover is obscured, she looks Asian enough for people to deduce that it's actually Deeba, who is the real main character. (The original UK cover just shows a Binja among flowers and buildings.)
  • Strange Secret Entrance: UnLondon is accessed through an assortment of these, Deeba is able to get back through a bookstore she got turned around in.