Author: China Miéville
Genre: Urban Fantasy (sort of)
Release: 7 May in Hardback
Deep in the research wing of the Natural History Museum is a prize specimen, something that comes along much less often than once in a lifetime: a perfect, and perfectly preserved, giant squid. But what does it mean when the creature suddenly and impossibly disappears?
For curator Billy Harrow it’s the start of a headlong pitch into a London of warring cults, surreal magic, apostates and assassins. It might just be that the creature he’s been preserving is more than a biological rarity: there are those who are sure it’s a god.
A god that someone is hoping will end the world.
This is my third novel by China Miéville after reading Un Lun Dun and The City & The City and from what I can tell these three books are a marked shift form his better known and denser Bas-Lag trilogy.
The reason I mention this is that Miéville built up fan base and reputation on his earlier works and it’s a reputation that might put more than a few people off.
To be honest I’ve looked at Perdido Street Station, The Scar and Iron Council and been put off myself by their size and potentially complex narrative. Now I don’t know if it’s a change in focus or I’ve formed the wrong impression before but I’ve found other two books of his I’ve read challenging but enjoyable and not as scary as I thought.
Kraken carries on that trend. This time Miéville tales a more straight forward and linear tale when compared with the mentally and physically segregated space in The City & The City and turns it something more akin to Un Lun Dun’s exploration of a theme, then it was pollution and the environment and this time its religion. A religion based squid worship.
I know what you’re thinking and you’re thinking the octopus-headed monster-god Cthulhu or maybe you’re thinking Clash of the Titans and ‘Release the Kraken’ well it’s more Cthulhu than Titan but this a Kraken that only Miéville could make it.
As the blurb says Billy Harrow is the catalyst that brings about the search for a missing, if dead, Kraken in order to prevent the end of the world. Billy is just a curator at the Natural History Museum. He just happens to be working the day it vanishes. But then he to gets dragged into finding it if he likes it or not.
But he is not the only interested party in the missing Kraken and Miéville builds his story using a cast of characters. We have a trio of police detectives that have a special department with a cult obsessed consultant. We have a crime boss simply called The Tattoo and we have a menagerie of London more obscure and more mystically inclined individuals several of which are trained killers, a few who can read the guts of the City and a several that have a few knacks up their sleeves. A girlfriend is searching for your missing boyfriend (not Billy) and two characters who bring you nightmares. You can see Miéville has quite a few characters to bring into play too.
Now as a linear as Miéville has made his narrative – squid goes missing, search for missing squid, prevent End of the World before time runs out. He isn’t out to give the reader an easy time. He’s out to play with them, twist their expectations, and then widen their imaginations.
He takes what could have been simple story and does a lot more with it. Take his view of London. He manages to merge a fable of a magical city with a real working and concrete place.
China then manages to update and change his place by introducing further layers through introducing us through Billy, as our outsider, and through the view of some insiders that we’ve only seen one side and there are more parts of it.
Billy as our main focus, could quite easily go through this journey and not change. He doesn’t really need alter as once the Kraken is found then it will all be over, won’t it? And it’s not his journey, or is it? Billy changes from this observer to a hero and warrior but he morphs into the role rather than by deliberately changing.
China’s talent is also in how deals with the various religions that see salvation in a dead squid and Billy’s connection to it. There is a point where the story twists when Billy slowly changes his opinion of the Kraken they are hunting and it’s connection to the rest of the events. It quite easily makes you think about the nature of gods and religions.
China is clever and thoughtful, which is one of the problems I have with him as a writer, his style is not easy to read. It doesn’t, if I’m being honest, flow that well. Almost every sentence has weight and if your concentration slips or you misread a line it quickly become obvious. In this book things change over a line rather than a paragraph.
But if you can get used to that, and it just takes an acceptance that you might have to go at his pace rather than yours then you’ll pick up a lot more from him. And it’s a much more pleasurable experience when not rushed.
In terms of value for effort Kraken is a satisfying read. China Miéville uses a diverse cast that is multi-layered and revealed as you read. He’s taken what could be cliché of a giant squid, the idea of god, and the end of the world and made them into a new standard that every Urban Fantasy should strive to reach.
I’m hoping that Miéville’s next tale will mellow his style even more and allow his ideas to shine without that second buffer for processing.
I have one last thing to say,
‘Release the Kraken!’