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Kraken by China Mieville

Kraken (original 2010; edition 2010)

by China Mieville

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1,894None3,610 (3.65)171
Authors:China Mieville
Info:Del Rey (2010), Edition: Book Club, Hardcover, 528 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:fantasy, London, magic, apocalypse

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Kraken: An Anatomy by China Miéville (Author) (2010)

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English (97)  Czech (1)  All languages (98)
Showing 1-5 of 97 (next | show all)
Medium-grade fantasy fiction on the scorecard, set in an underworld London of assorted strange beliefs and characters with unusual abilities. Despite some unexpected twists, passages that have you tense with anticipation, and a handful of brilliant paragraphs, it’s finally just a little too goofy.

Any moment called now is always full of possibilities. At times of excess might-bes, London sensitives occasionally had to lie down in the dark. Some were prone to nausea brought on by a surfeit of apocalypse. Endsick, they called it, and at moments of planetary conjuncture, calendrical bad luck or mooncalf births, its sufferers would moan and puke, struck down by the side effects of revelations in which they had no faith.

Breckenridge Oatmeal Stout
Harpoon IPA
  MusicalGlass | Mar 14, 2014 |
This is my first encounter with Miéville, and Kraken is a book chock-full of ideas-- enough to sustain a dozen other novels, I suspect. I loved the exploration of obscure London religions, and I loved the insertion of such a crazy idea into (in part) the police procedural genre. Perhaps my favorite idea is the ghost cops who aren't really ghosts, but just the leftover tropes of cops. Or perhaps the guy who uses a magic wish to turn his toy Star Trek phaser into a real one. It seems to not take place in our own world, but even that is (quite cleverly) accounted for at the novel's end. A little messy at times, and I got lost on occasion, but it was usually worth it.
  Stevil2001 | Mar 13, 2014 |
There were many days when I needed my sleep that I wished this book was not as compelling as it was. ( )
  netmouse | Jan 7, 2014 |
The most fun you can have with a giant squid this side of Japanese octopus porn. I take that back. It’s the most fun no matter which side of octopus porn you’re on.

This is the first China Miéville work I’ve read so I wasn’t tainted by any of his previous books. I went in with few expectations. And how did I feel coming out? The dude rocks.

Here's the the milieu: Magic exists in modern day London, and, hidden behind mystical distractions, a secret society of competing religious cults, for-hire magicians, and mafia mages vie for power. The inciting event of the story is the disappearance of a giant squid from a local museum, which sets off a series of events that might just lead to the end of the world. Who stole it? Why? And how can this apocalyptic destiny be averted? Such is the drama and fun found in Kraken.

The main character, Billy Harrow, is a hapless young Londoner who works at the museum where the squid was preserved as a tourist attraction. After the squid disappears, he becomes a “person of interest” to the police, to various cults, including the Kraken-worshipping cult, and to two psychotic killers hired by a gang leader who seeks the magic potential of the squid. The main character reminded me a bit of Richard Mayhew from Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, but the two magic-amped assassins chasing Billy, known only as Goss and Subby, reminded me even more of the two unstoppable killers chasing after Richard Mayhew, the Messrs Croup and Vandemar. They are merciless, enjoy killing, and seem too powerful to kill. Like Mayhew, Billy is caught up in a magical underworld he had no idea existed and has to figure out how to survive and avert tragedy. But, really, the similarity ends there. Billy is confused like Richard, but he gains his own magical powers that help him along the way. And while Richard is trying to save a friend, Billy is trying to save the world.

Perhaps you won’t be surprised to learn that a book that features an undersea leviathan and “the sea” as a character also includes an abundance of red herrings. (Pun intended?) That’s right, Miéville keeps you guessing as to the perpetrator of the plot to destroy the world until the very end. Although I did call it early, I wasn’t positive.

Despite being a fantasy thriller, Miéville manages to integrate some hard-hitting critiques of religion along with a philosophical critique of the teleportation thought experiment*. In other words, this is a nerd-powered thriller. Well, nerdy in content, Miéville in person looks more like a badass punker weightlifter.

Regarding that critique of religion (this is only for those who’ve read the book or never intend to) I found it rather astute that the villain turned out to be a lapsed Fundamentalist who was furious at the world for illustrating the falsity of his beliefs…but it was even more astute of Miéville to determine that the manner of his revenge was an attempt to rewrite history to his liking and eliminate the discovery of evolution in favor of creationism. Revisionist history is something the conservatives and Fundamentalists are constantly attempting to promote, whether it be glorifying Vietnam, pretending that global warming isn’t happening, erasing the theft of an election by George W. Bush, turning Reagan into a hero, etc.

The book has perhaps two weaknesses. The main character, Billy is one. He was a bit of a cipher. Had a rather vague personality. The other weakness is a muddle toward the middle. The plot gets somewhat expository in order to weave a web of tangled conspiracies … too much insider politics for my taste among the cults, which tended to bog down the story. Nonetheless, it absolutely deserves five stars because I couldn’t put it down. Miéville keeps you wanting to find out what happens next, and the interweaving cults are cool as hell. Well played, well played.

*I debunked the teleportation thought experiment in my review of I Am a Strange Loop and the experiment itself was also brought up (in a strange loop!) in a debate I recently had with Manny Rayner which starts here and ends here. ( )
  David_David_Katzman | Nov 26, 2013 |
Not sure really what to say about the writing in this book. I enjoyed it - but I found the amount of dialect in it off-putting. Something akin to Trainspotting meets the Anubis Gates. Set in London in present time, a museum curator gets caught up in an all out magical war between 2 sets of criminals and their henchman, some special magic police, and various cults, mages, and thugs in an underbelly of London that isn't generally known to exist. It keeps your interest, even though I kept getting pulled out of the text by the dialogue that was more challenging to understand at times than I cared for. The book does take one very nice twist right at the end that I should have seen better, but didn't. I had been recommended to read his books for a while from various sources. I liked this one enough to feel that the recommendation was warranted and that I'd like to read more. So, I guess that's a thumbs-up as anything else. ( )
1 vote stuart10er | Nov 5, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 97 (next | show all)
Kraken utilises Miéville’s common setting of London, albeit a strange London. This otherness beside the familiar is a strand in his work evident from King Rat and Un Lun Dun through to THE CITY AND YTIC EHT.

This one started out as if it may have been written with a film or TV adaptation in mind - one with a potentially light-hearted take - but soon veers off down strange Miévillean byways which may be unfilmable. For these are the end times and cultists worshipping all manner of weird gods abound.

It begins with a kind of locked room mystery as a giant squid, Architeuthis, has been stolen - formalin, tank and all - from its stance in the Darwin Centre, a natural history museum where Billy Harrow is a curator. He helped to prepare the squid for show and is thought to hold the knowledge that might allow all those interested in its recovery to find it. The police fundamentalist and cult squad, the FSRC, is called in to help investigate the disappearance which becomes more involved when Billy discovers a body pickled (in too small a jar) in the museum’s basement. And these are merely the first strangenesses to be encountered in this book. We also have the consciousness of a man embedded within a tattoo, a tattoo which moves and speaks. Then there is the double act of Goss and Subby - two shapeshifting baddies from out of time (they shift other people’s shapes) - and weird sects, cults and mancers of all sorts.

Never short of incident and brimming with plot the novel is probably a bit too convoluted, with too many characters for its own good, and its one-damn-strange-thing-after-another-ness can verge on overkill. But this is an unashamed fantasy, a form to which I am antipathetic when it is taken to extremes; and Miéville is not one for restraint.

While Kraken sometimes skirts along the edge of comedy it never fully embraces it. There are too many killings and acts of violence for comedy to sit comfortably. I might have liked the novel better if it had. Its main fault is that it never manages to settle on which sort of book it is meant to be, straddling various narrative stools such as police procedural, one man against the odds, woman in search of the truth about her vanished lover, etc.
added by jackdeighton | editA Son Of The Rock, Jack Deighton (Jan 29, 2011)
Miéville has done what all great science-fiction has done—and great so-called literary fiction, when it gets around to it—provide a nuanced, highly imagined critique of the zeitgeist, dressed up in a crackerjack story.
""... "Kraken" is, no mistake, a literary work. The hint is in the subtitle, "An Anatomy," because Miéville is exploring the gap between the prosaic squid and the mythic Kraken, between the mundane ground of everyday life and the sacred. What precisely turns a fish into a god? What is the anatomy of a legend? And how do gods manifest themselves in our world?
...Miéville's best work since "Perdido Street Station."

» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Miéville, ChinaAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Valdez, Elisa LazoCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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“The green waves break from my sides
As I roll up, forced by my season”

    —Hugh Cook, “The Kraken Wakes”
To Mark Bould
First words
An everyday doomsayer in sandwich-board abruptly walked away from what over the last several days had been his pitch, by the gates of a museum.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Haiku summary
Welcome to London
and an underground of cults,
cops, baddies and ... squid.

No descriptions found.

Being chased by cults, a maniac, and the sorcerers of the Fundamentalist and Sect-Related Crime Unit, cephalopod specialist Billy Harrow inadvertently learns that he holds the key to finding a missing squid--a squid that just happens to be an embryonic god whose powers, properly harnessed, can destroy all that is, was, and ever shall be.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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