Kraken by China Miéville

16 June, 2011

Wowzer. I thought The City & The City was amazing but Kraken… Really, how does China Miéville do it? A lot of readers have said how disappointing Kraken was after The City & The City, but I have to disagree. It’s a very different novel, more reader friendly, yet still packed with enough ideas to feel as though your head’s going to explode. Miéville certainly doesn’t spoonfeed his readers and I admire him for that. I have to admit it wasn’t as smooth a read as I expected just because of the density and relish with which Miéville plays with ideas and words. He mixes religion and politics and psychogeography and science and ties it up rather niftily in the end. The monstrous beings he creates are truly terrifying, yet the human characters, although sympathetic, are slightly on the light side. But then the plot moves at such a speed that it’s not really a novel in which you get to know the characters too deeply.

So Kraken is about the mythic, many-limbed monster of the sea, the giant squid, the archeteuthis, cthulhu that has terrified the minds of countless sailors over the centuries. Billy is the custodian and preserver of the giant squid that rests in London’s Natural History Museum. He’s always had a sensitive ear and sometimes he hears things moving when he’s alone at work. One day, the giant squid vanishes and Billy is plummeted into a world he knew nothing about, a different aspect of London that is weird, esoteric and frankly terrifying. And when his friend Leon is literally devoured by Goss and Subby, two unhuman creatures who can unravel themselves anywhere, he goes on the run. He is befriended by Dane, a priest of the Church of Kraken who believes that Billy is one of the Kraken’s prophet and encounters a myriad of other psychoreligious characters as he tried to outrun his fate. Can he make it? And will he be able to dodge Goss and Subby and their equally terrifying boss the Tattoo? And what’s all this about the apocalypse and London engulfed in flames?

Kraken is like a high-octane thriller but with lots of clever, esoteric and made-up info. The connections Miéville makes between religion, politics and London is simply amazing. With every page I read, I just sighed with envy that he has such a fecund imagination. One of the things I really liked and that impressed me about Kraken was Miéville’s use of and understanding of science and its history.

I can’t wait to read Embassytown and the Bas-Lag novels. And Un Lun Dun.

I read this as part of Stainless Steel Droppings’ Once Upon A Time V Challenge.

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25 Responses to “Kraken by China Miéville”

  1. Nymeth Says:

    I’m sure I’m going to LOVE this. I have it on hold at the library so it should become available soon. Can’t wait 😀

  2. amymckie Says:

    I have yet to read anything by this author but wow, what an odd story for a novel, the giant squid and prophet and all that. I have to admit that I’m fairly intrigued!

  3. Gavin Says:

    It amazes me how Mieville makes use of every possible genre in his writing. Each book is different and each book blows my mind. I have Embassytown on hold at the library and am hoping to get my hands on it this weekend.

  4. Steph Says:

    I have this thing where I am obsessed with sea creatures, so I think Kraken sounds really cool. Tony read and reviewed it a while back for BookPage and I thought it sounded good then, but your review has served to remind me that I still need to read this (or really anything by Miéville). I also have The City, The City, but maybe I’ll read this one first…

  5. Redhead Says:

    I guess I better read Kraken then. . . after Embassytown I think need something a little more normal, or my brain might never recover.

    great review btw!

  6. Colleen Says:

    Dear gawd, after joy that was The City & The City, I can’t believe I forgot about Kraken!!! Thank you for the reminder!!

  7. Danielle Says:

    I’ve been very curious about Mieville but unsure whether I would like (or understand) his books. I wouldn’t mind trying his work, and I do like the sounds of an intellectual thriller. Is this a good place to start with his work?

  8. sakura Says:

    Nymeth: Yay, I hope you enjoy it. There’s just so much in it that will amaze you.

    Amy: It is a rather odd premise isn’t it? But Mieville is known for his weird fiction so I’m looking forward to read the rest of his novels which I hear is even weirder.

    Gavin: There’s been some mixed reviews of Embassytown although it’s split between being brilliant and confusing. So I’m really looking forward to reading it too.

    Steph: You will definitely enjoy this then. There’s a lot about cephalopods in the book. I read The City & The City first which made me fall in love with Mieville’s writing and ideas and is a little more mainstream (although I doubt Mieville can ever be called mainstream) , so make sure you read that too!

    Colleen: Pleasure! It’s taken me a year to get to Kraken after finishing The City & The City and I’m kicking myself for it. Next one should hopefully be sooner.

    Danielle: I would recommend starting with The City & The City which is a crime thriller with no fantastic elements, although the setting and ideas will be like no other thriller you’ve read. Then move on to Kraken which has lots of weird elements. But do try both, Danielle.


  9. I wasn’t much of a fan of this one. I thought it was all over the place and felt it needed to be reined in. It’s wildly inventive but it was just too much.


  10. I haven’t read anything by Miéville yet, but he was recommended to me relatively recently – again. Now, I don’t know where to start. Predicaments, predicaments.

  11. savidgereads Says:

    I got a copy of this a few weeks ago. Really, really excited about it (and I was already rather excited) now I have read your thoughts on it. I would like to read all of his work, but think I need to be sparing. Especially seeing as, the very good, Embassytown nearly made my head pop.

  12. sakura Says:

    A Damned Conjurer: There was a lot of stuff in it and was indeed wildly inventive! Which of his books is your favourite, if you have read any of his others?

    anothercookiecrumbles: Maybe The City & The City?

    savidgereads: I’m really looking forward to reading Embassytown now. I haven’t as yet read any of his sf novels so this should be interesting.

  13. Aarti Says:

    Wow, I need to read Mieville ASAP! I feel like I’m missing out on a huge fantasy treat by not having done so yet.


  14. I’d probably say that The Scar is my favourite or perhaps Perdido Street Station. I’m looking forward to reading Embassytown, the synopsis sounds like it could become my favourite of his…no pressure then


  15. This is one author I have never read, but would like to try. I have several of his books on my wish list.

  16. Kristen M. Says:

    This will definitely be my next Mieville. It might have to wait until after an Un Lun Dun re-read though. I love that one.

    • sakura Says:

      I haven’t read Un Lun Dun yet but have heard lots of good things about it. I love literature about London and am thinking it may be similar to Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere…

  17. novelinsights Says:

    This is high on my TBR. Thanks for the great write up Sakura!

  18. lisa Says:

    ah, i read and enjoyed The City and the City last year, so i’ll definitely give this one a try. the one thing that didn’t float so well for me with it, though, was the rather flat characters. i’ve heard Un Lun Dun was a little better in this regard, so i’m looking forward to that one.

    i have to agree with a few earlier commenters, in that the premise of this book just sounds too interesting to pass up.


  19. Great review, Sakura! I have this at home (I won it last year) but have been a little afraid to pick it up. In fact, I still am. That said, your review has made me think I really should read it at some point (perhaps when my brain is feeling a little more intelligent than it is right now – i.e. craving fluff) 😉


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