Two cities existing in the now and in the beyond; two cities existing side-by-side and within each other, on a parallel plane of time and space but divided by a membrane of rumor, history, and politics, and monitored by invisible forces that hold the citizens of both worlds in a grip of Big Brother fear.
This is a novel that challenges the reader to let go of "Why?" and accept what is: that history can become so distorted it no longer matters; that the present is too much to process, so we condition ourselves to see only what we want; that we follow willingly in the footsteps of the masses before us, because acceptance is easier and resistance seems futile.
Imagine driving down a busy road, encountering cars and pedestrians that you must pretend are not there, but that you must avoid striking; imagine seeing a lover only inches from you whom you cannot look in the eye, whom you cannot touch because they are not meant to exist in the world where you are walking.
Unseeing, untouching, unsmelling, unnoticing is life in the cities of Beszel and Ul Qoma- the former a Balkanesque, drab, downtrodden post-Communist burg of concrete blocks; the latter, a revived and lively secular Muslimesque city of glimmering towers and ancient ruins. They are one and the same but separate, their borders interwoven with crosshatches that are in constant danger of being breached by the innocent, the curious, the ignorant, and the sinister.
In this metaphysical swirl lives the story's anchor and its sanity: Inspector Borlú, of the Beszian Extreme Crime Squad. Borlú, a calm and resigned protagonist without annoying ticks or hazardous vices, is called upon to investigate the murder of a young woman, a crime which may or may not have occurred in his home city. Mieville presents a fairly pedestrian crime drama, involving the familiar plot devices of rival police squads, a plucky partner, red herrings, thugs and corporate hijinks.
It is the possibility of a greater evil, the certainty of disaster, and the bends your brain must take to allow for this parallel world, which so closely resembles our own, that keeps the suspense at the boil point.
This is not my usual fare- modern crime drama with a science fantasy theme- but Good Golly, if it's this well done, I could become an aficionado.