Spoiler Free Run Down...
THE CITY & THE CITY was amazing. It's mystery meets urban fantasy. The story is told in the first person by Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad. He is investigating a murder that will take him from his home city of Besźel to its neighboring city, Ul Qoma. Imagine a city on a glass map that was stomped on. Now, follow the nonsense cracks to draw up invisible, at times overlapping, borders to create two cities--Besźel and Ul Qoma--and two very distinct cultures. Sound convoluted? Well, it is. But it works!
Even though the story follows Tyador, the book is really about the two cities and the strange, strict rules that shape its people. And should a citizen breach those invisible borders, the mysterious Breach will take you away and you will never be seen again.
If you don't like meticulous description and want a fast-paced read with a clean ending, then I wouldn't recommend this book. But, if you like a well-thought-out plot with fully realized lead characters (Tyador, Beszel, and Ul Qoma--yes, the two cities are more than just background) and non-methodical solutions to solving a crime, then please check out this book.
My fascination with this book comes from not ever being 100% sure if the two cities were just the product of fucked-up borders and people willing to live in such a way or if there was some technology or magic at play. That everyone was willing to conform to the point where a murderer would be allowed to go free just to avoid breach was aggravating. More than once I yelled at the characters "fuck protocol and just cross the damn border!" But I feel that that frustration was very integral to the story and was what gave the characters' actions meaning, especially toward the end.
And then there's the Breach. Are they just people or are they a bit more??? It's never confirmed and that vagueness made the story for me. Personally, I like to believe that there is some lost technology at play that gives the Breach the power they have over the two cities. I like to believe that they have been removed from time.
Poor Tyador. It was literally a "you can't have your cake and eat it too" scenario. That bittersweet ending is what made the story perfect for me. Choices were made and actions followed through, but at the very essence of it all were the rules that kept the City & the City alive.