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.