Book Review: Kraken by China Mieville

I began reading this book with a very little knowledge of what it was about and let me tell you, that just might be the best way to read this book.

What’s funny about it is, many of the reviews printed inside the book say that it’s one of the weirdest and scariest books you may ever read. They say it’s twisty and turny and non-stop.

And it is all of those things. And yet, once I read far enough into it, I began to realize that it was actually a quite conventional story of good versus evil, of the unsuspecting hero thrust into a conflict he knows nothing about for reasons he doesn’t understand.  And I think that this was a really smart way to go about it, because his plot is so dense, the landscape he’s created so rich. I needed something familiar to grasp as I read this, so as not to feel like a complete outsider.

The story follows Billy Harrow, a curator at the Darwin Museum turned fugitive on the run from magic crime lords, on his journey to save the world. The setting is quite easily the most important aspect for this story, because the setting is a character within itself. The story takes place in London, but a London filled with magic cults, crime lord wizards, churches that don’t worship a god in the sky but a lord of the deep, dark ocean. There’s no such thing as a jack of all trades when it comes to magic – those who practice usually only practice their specific “knack”, their specific power. It is this London where the end of the world is set, and Billy (along with several friends he makes along the way) must save London from the Armageddon that has been foreseen in the wake of a battle between magic crime lords.

The language of this novel is casual and affecting, even while the author has a tendency to flaunt his obvious intelligence with convoluted sentences and little known words. As a writer, the voice is definitely what drew me in the most – it’s distinctly London, and he truly seems to love the place, even while he shows you the worst sides of it he can find.

This book is definitely not for everyone but if you liked Neil Gaiman’s American Gods then this may be just up your alley. And if you want a good example of distinct voice, this is a book you should probably read.

3 Responses to “Book Review: Kraken by China Mieville”
  1. Charlie Sierra says:

    I need to read more fiction! Sounds different, but I think expanding boundaries is important. London is a great place for anykind of story.

  2. I found it disappointing after “The City and the City”. He is clever and there are always nice globs of weird in his stuff, but there is also a bit of the Emperor’s new clothes – as you identify, it is underneath a fairly straightforward story. I’ve referred to it a little in my rant about Embassytown.

    • I’ll be honest, it’s the first China Mieville novel I’ve read – I’ll have to check out the other two. I like the Emperor’s new clothes description, because that’s exactly what it is. A conventional story hidden beneath layers of verbose language and back story.

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