Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Kraken, by China Mieville

Del Rey
June 2010
528 pp.

On a normal day in an alternative London, it's Darwin Centre curator Billy Harrow's turn to do the public tour. The Darwin Centre is part of the Natural History Museum, but Billy knows why these people are really there: it's in anticipation of seeing the Architeuthis dux, or as it's more commonly known, the giant squid. The museum's specimen is 8.62 meters long, found in 2004 off the Falkland Islands.  But when the crowning moment arrives, and Billy opens the exhibit room door,  the squid, complete with its 9 meter brine-formalin filled tank, has vanished. It is totally, impossibly just gone.  And with it went any semblance of normalcy in the life of Billy Harrow, who sets out to find the missing architeuthis.  Along the way he learns that finding the squid is of utmost importance, not just so it might be returned to the museum, but because the squidnapping has triggered a series of events that are destined to lead to the end of the world, for real this time.

It is from this juncture that  Kraken takes off as the race is on to find the squid. Billy finds himself smack in the middle of a war  happening in the secret and magic London.  That city is the home of rival gods, whose cult members can be found duking it out from time to time (for example, the Brood, who worship a wargod polecat ferret),  Londonmancers, memory angels who guard old London in the face of the new, Chaos Nazis, familiars who go on strike in accordance with their union, a crime boss named the Tattoo whose face was imprisoned in the back of an innocent man and who runs a pair of psychopathic assassins, as well as a host of thug types like the Knuckleheads, who have men's bodies but fists for heads.  Overseeing crimes in this fantastical London is the Fundamentalist and Sect-Related Crime Unit (the FSRC), a branch of the police, complete with informants.  Billy has the tremendous task of sorting out who can be trusted and who can't as events head toward a final cataclysm.

While the last few chapters slow down the screaming pace of the rest of the novel, Kraken is one of the better works of speculative fiction I've read in a long time. There are parts that are laugh-out-loud funny, for example, with riffs on Star Trek and old police television shows. It's also filled with tongue-in-cheek satire focusing on religious differences and conflicts. Good speculative fiction demands that the writer's alternate world is believable, and Mieville goes above and beyond with his creativity and imagination. He gets the message through quite clearly that London is a very magical and special place -- and that there is definitely a bridge somewhere between reality and fantasy.

I can definitely recommend this novel to readers of speculative fiction, to those people who enjoy novels such as Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere or even Simon R. Green's Nightside series, and to anyone looking for something incredibly imaginative and different.  It's fun, appeals to my quirky, snarky and sarcastic sides, and although it turns out to be over 500 pages long,  goes by incredibly quickly. My first Mieville novel, but definitely not my last. 

fiction from England


  1. I'm glad that you liked this book. I only recently came across this, but I wasn't sure how much I will enjoy a book about a squid. But looks like that's not all in it. I sure can't wait to dig in! :)

  2. This sounds like it might fill a gap I have in the Goodreads Summer Reading Challenge. Thanks for the great review!


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