Strippable Cover Reviews: Kraken by China Mieville

Kraken by China Mieville

If you’re at all familiar with China Mieville’s work, you may be thrown when you start reading Kraken. Where is New Crobuzon, the iconic city he created and built a mythology for? We’re not in Beszel/Ul Qoma either, the dual metropolis where last year’s Hugo nominated, Arthur C. Clarke Award winning The City & The City was set. No, we’re in normal London, the underside of which Mieville has visited before, but this time? We’re in in the Natural History Museum on the normal daily tour with a curator named Billy Harrow. I was worried.

Then the Giant Squid at the center of Billy’s tour disappeared.

Well, that’s a bit more like it.

If this is your first introduction to Mr. Mieville, he’s a London author with a stable of critically acclaimed novels under his belt. He’s won the Arthur C. Clarke Award three times, and the British Fantasy Award twice. He’s written a young adult novel (Un Lun Dun) and created his own world in the previously mentioned New Crobuzon novels (Perdido Street Station, Iron Council, The Scar). However, Kraken probably lies closest, spiritually, to his 1998 breakout novel, King Rat.

From the moment the squid disappears, Billy’s life turns to hell. He’s warned off from telling anyone by a strange squad of Police Officers no one wants to admit exists, one that uses invisible pig spirits and magical tripwires in their day to day work. When he does mention it, he receives one of the deadliest origami packages ever conceived of. He’s whisked into a world of cults and crime lords made of ink, where magic is known as ‘knacking’, and where apocalypses happen maybe two, three times a week. And the stolen squid? Well, it may just be the cause of the one that actually ends it all.

Initially, we’re just as confused as he is.

This is one of the dangers of Mieville’s writing style. He can tend to get bogged down in the furious glory of his own ideas, and they are glorious, but at times the reader can feel abandoned. The rush of the new and strange can be overwhelming.

That feeling didn’t last long for me. Mieville’s prose and the stories he weaves are something that it may take you a while to get into, but once you do, you’re thoroughly hooked. His novels aren’t something you can read with one eye on the television, and you likely won’t want to; you need to pay attention to what he’s saying.  He’s writing “the fiction of the new century” as Neil Gaiman put it, and this novel feels just as fresh as anything that he’s done before.

Kraken isn’t quite a fantasy, not half a comedy and might or might not be telling the story of the end of the world. There are humorous tips throughout, like a moment where the worlds of Star Trek and reality collide, but they’re book-ended with horrific scenes of strike-breaking by men with fists for heads and Gunfarmers, the most terrifying assassins ever created. Billy ends up allied with a true force of nature, and a friend from his life before the squid disappeared ends up way, way over her head.

As a total experience, Kraken could probably be described as something of a trip. I mean that in both senses of the word. You’re dragged on a life-changing journey with Billy while these strange, beautiful, horrible things happen. But Mieville manages to resolve things beautifully, with a unique ending that nearly rivals the bizarre way The City & The City was written for forcing lateral thinking. So if you like squid, urban fantasy, dark comedy, origami, or tattoos, you could do worse than to pick up Kraken, out today from Del Rey Books.

Posted on June 29, 2010 at 09:30 by Lincoln Eddy · Permalink
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