Have you ever read anything by China Mieville?
He keeps winning awards of all kinds — I think at this point that feeds on itself, because he won the World Fantasy Award for THE CITY AND THE CITY last year, naturally everybody reads EMBASSYTOWN already thinking, “Should I nominate this for the Hugo?” So of course it got nominated for the Hugo and Nebula and everything.
Well . . . One can see why. I’m still trying to decide if I actually liked it. I’m not sure. I didn’t really like the narrator (the book’s in the first person) for most of the book. Actually, I hardly thought the narrator (Avice) had an actual personality for most of the book. I guess she did . . . not a very interesting personality? To me? Or something?
Which may kind of be the idea, because Avice is supposed to be sort of permanently drifting through life in a not very committed way, and at the end that’s no longer the case, but I suspect that even if Mieville wrote her that way on purpose, the effect was to make me feel that the protagonist just was so uninteresting for the first, I don’t know, maybe 3/4 of the book. Which is a lot of time to not really care about the, hello, protagonist of the book.
Certainly I did not “fall in love” with any of the characters, and you definitely can’t expect to “fall into the story”, either, and that more distant feeling leaves me, not disappointed exactly, but . . . well, I wouldn’t have nominated it, okay? Even though I can see very well it’s good in other ways.
What other ways? Well, it’s a setting novel and an idea novel. The setting is far future and it’s done well; the idea is based around this wild double-brained language and that’s really kinda cool; the major problem doesn’t appear till about 100 pages in and doesn’t start to snowball into OMG WE ARE SO SCREWED territory for about another 100 pages after that.
After which there is quite a bit of excitement, I grant you. I don’t want to provide any spoilers, so I’ll just say I read that part MUCH faster than I read the first 3/4 of the novel. And I wound up liking Avice much better at the end — she was more engaged in her world, and therefore so was I.
In contrast, I loved THE CITY AND THE CITY (that’s the only other Mieville I’ve read, though UN LUN DUN is on my TBR pile downstairs). The setting was more intimate, both more jarring and more familiar — it’s a murder mystery set in a middle European city (sort of), and while you read it, you keep asking yourself, Really? And you can’t quite figure out how the Beszel / Ul Qoma thing actually works, but it’s just so cool.
And besides, I loved Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad. And since I’m a character-driven reader, that makes all the difference.