Review: Kraken

Posted: June 29, 2010 by in Books We Like (4/5 single_star) Meta: China Miéville, Fantasy

China Miéville is like Dan Simmons in a way. No matter how odd or bizarre the idea or synopsis, the novel turns out well. Imagine Miéville’s editor when China said, “So I’m gonna write this novel. It’s a comedy. Kinda. In London. Kinda. Where a giant squid is stolen. And there are people running around with a giant hand in place of their head–Knuckle-heads, get it? And there is a Star Trek phaser that works. And there are cults of every kind whose gods are all legit. And they all have real and scheduled Apocalypses.” With his track-record, what can Miéville’s editor say but, “Awesome! I’ll sell it tomorrow for a ton of money. Yay us!” (Note: This is similar to a post our friend, Larry Correia, did on the previously mentioned Dan Simmons. It was awesome, and it reminded us completely of how we feel about Miéville).

Yeah. This is China Miéville’s KRAKEN (Amazon). Billy Harrow is a cephalopod specialist at London’s Natural History Museum. He is leading a tour group to see a preserved giant squid, but it is soon discovered that the squid has been stolen. How? Well, that’s the question on everyone–and everything‘s–mind, and they are all chasing Billy, whom they all think has the answers. Because, you see, the giant squid being stolen has caused the timetable on the impending Squidpocalypse to be dramatically sped up.

There is no way to describe this book without it sounding completely bonkers.

And yet, this is China Miéville. We have come to expect stuff from him that would be completely “out of left field” for any other author (except Simmons and Gaiman). The first hundred pages of KRAKEN proceed fairly normally, and we feel that for this book to keep its readers, that small token measure of normalcy was important. But then things go completely bizarre. When Billy gets abducted partway through the novel, the transition from “normal” to “what the heck?” happens in a paragraph. Looking back on it, it would have been nice to have a cleaner transition. In fact, as the novel proceeds, it is the clarity of the weirdness that is lacking at times. This is odd for Miéville, as his descriptions are typically so disturbingly clear you want to take a shower after reading them.

All in all KRAKEN is a terrific, albeit completely bizarre, read.

The story in KRAKEN takes place in London, but not an overly familiar one. It feels more like an adult version of Miéville’s YA novel, UN LUN DUN (EBR Review). Apart from a few recognizable buildings, it feels like a fantasy world. The characters, typical of Miéville, are oddly fascinating. We have, again, Billy Harrow the squid specialist. He is being chased by The Tattoo, a sentient (it’s explained in the novel, don’t worry) tattoo on a guy’s back. There is the the FSRC–the Fundamentalist and Sect-Related Crime Unit–a branch of London’s finest that, well, investigates the multitude of sects and cults. An ancient Egyptian spirit known as Wati is the head organizer of an ongoing strike put on by the Familiar’s Union. Seriously. We are only scratching the surface here.

Throughout KRAKEN, there is an odd kind of humor. Remember, this is a comedy. Kinda. It is that dark humor that has had its place in Miéville’s Bas Lag novels, and it saturates this newest effort. There are moments that will make you laugh out loud, and others that will make you shake your head due to its… wrongness.

KRAKEN clocks in at just under 500 pages. We found that pages 100-200ish, and pages 300-375ish tended to meander a bit too much. The rest was paced terrifically, especially the crazy ending (which made everything in the book make all sorts of sense). We will note that this is one of our least favorite Miéville novels. Don’t take that to mean it is bad–all of his stuff is awesome–but it just doesn’t have the appeal that, say, PERDIDO STREET STATION (Amazon) has. Additionally, KRAKEN is probably the least accessible Miéville novel. If you had never read a Miéville novel, this would not be the place to start–start with PERDIDO.

All in all this was a terrific, albeit completely bizarre, read. If you are a fan of Miéville, you shouldn’t miss this novel. However, if you haven’t liked the one or two Miéville novels you have read, this one probably won’t change your opinion.

  • Recommended Age: 18+
  • Language: It's Miéville. There is all sorts of language.
  • Violence: Somewhat, but nothing graphic
  • Sex: None

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