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Kraken [Hardcover]

China Mieville
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

June 29 2010
With this outrageous new novel, China Miéville has written one of the strangest, funniest, and flat-out scariest books you will read this—or any other—year. The London that comes to life in Kraken is a weird metropolis awash in secret currents of myth and magic, where criminals, police, cultists, and wizards are locked in a war to bring about—or prevent—the End of All Things.

In the Darwin Centre at London’s Natural History Museum, Billy Harrow, a cephalopod specialist, is conducting a tour whose climax is meant to be the Centre’s prize specimen of a rare Architeuthis duxbetter known as the Giant Squid. But Billy’s tour takes an unexpected turn when the squid suddenly and impossibly vanishes into thin air.

As Billy soon discovers, this is the precipitating act in a struggle to the death between mysterious but powerful forces in a London whose existence he has been blissfully ignorant of until now, a city whose denizens—human and otherwise—are adept in magic and murder.

There is the Congregation of God Kraken, a sect of squid worshippers whose roots go back to the dawn of humanity—and beyond. There is the criminal mastermind known as the Tattoo, a merciless maniac inked onto the flesh of a hapless victim. There is the FSRC—the Fundamentalist and Sect-Related Crime Unit—a branch of London’s finest that fights sorcery

with sorcery. There is Wati, a spirit from ancient Egypt who leads a ragtag union of magical familiars. There are the Londonmancers, who read the future in the city’s entrails. There is Grisamentum, London’s greatest wizard, whose shadow lingers long after his death. And then there is Goss and Subby, an ageless old man and a cretinous boy who, together, constitute a terrifying—yet darkly charismatic—demonic duo.

All of them—and others—are in pursuit of Billy, who inadvertently holds the key to the missing squid, an embryonic god whose powers, properly harnessed, can destroy all that is, was, and ever shall be.
 

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About the Author

China Miéville is the author of King Rat; Perdido Street Station, winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the British Fantasy Award; The Scar, winner of the Locus Award and the British Fantasy Award; Iron Council, winner of the Locus Award and the Arthur C. Clarke Award; Looking for Jake, a collection of short stories; and Un Lun Dun, his New York Times bestselling book for younger readers. He lives and works in London.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter One

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. The sign on his front was an old-school prophecy of the end: the one bobbing on his back read forget it.

Inside, a man walked through the big hall, past a double stair and a giant skeleton, his steps loud on the marble. Stone animals watched him. "Right then," he kept saying.

His name was Billy Harrow. He glanced at the great fabricated bones and nodded. It looked as if he was saying hello. It was a little after eleven on a morning in October. The room was filling up. A group waited for him by the entrance desk, eyeing each other with polite shyness.

There were two men in their twenties with geek-chic haircuts. A woman and man barely out of teens teased each other. She was obviously indulging him with this visit. There was an older couple, and a father in his thirties holding his young son. "Look, that's a monkey," he said. He pointed at animals carved in vines on the museum pillars. "And you see that lizard?"

The boy peeped. He looked at the bone apatosaurus that Billy had seemed to greet. Or maybe, Billy thought, he was looking at the glyptodon beyond it. All the children had a favourite inhabitant of the Natural History Museum's first hall, and the glyptodon, that half-globe armadillo giant, had been Billy's.

Billy smiled at the woman who dispensed tickets, and the guard behind her. "This them?" he said. "Right then, everyone. Shall we do this thing?"

He cleaned his glasses and blinked while he was doing it, replicating a look and motion an ex had once told him was adorable. He was a little shy of thirty and looked younger: he had freckles, and not enough stubble to justify "Bill." As he got older, Billy suspected, he would, DiCaprio-like, simply become like an increasingly wizened child.

Billy's black hair was tousled in halfheartedly fashionable style. He wore a not-too-hopeless top, cheap jeans. When he had first started at the centre, he had liked to think that he was unexpectedly cool-looking for such a job. Now he knew that he surprised no one, that no one expected scientists to look like scientists anymore.

"So you're all here for the tour of the Darwin Centre," he said. He was acting as if he thought they were present to investigate a whole research site, to look at the laboratories and offices, the filing, the cabinets of paperwork. Rather than to see one and only the one thing within the building.

"I'm Billy," he said. "I'm a curator. What that means is I do a lot of the cataloguing and preserving, stuff like that. I've been here awhile. When I first came here I wanted to specialise in marine molluscs--know what a mollusc is?" he asked the boy, who nodded and hid. "Snails, that's right." Mollusca had been the subject of his master's thesis.

"Alright, folks." He put his glasses on. "Follow me. This is a working environment, so please keep the noise down, and I beg you not to touch anything. We've got caustics, toxins, all manner of horrible stuff all over the place."

One of the young men started to say, "When do we see--?" Billy raised his hand.

"Can I just . . . ?" he said. "Let me explain about what'll happen when we're in there." Billy had evolved his own pointless idio-superstitions, according to one of which it was bad luck for anyone to speak the name of what they were all there for, before they reached it.

"I'm going to show you a bunch of the places we work," he said lamely. "Any questions, you can ask me at the end: we're a little bit time constrained. Let's get the tour done first."

No curator or researcher was obliged to perform this guide-work. But many did. Billy no longer grumbled when it was his turn.

They went out and through the garden, approaching the Darwin with a building site on one side and the brick filigrees of the Natural History Museum on the other.

"No photos please," Billy said. He did not care if they obeyed: his obligation was to repeat the rule. "This building here opened in 2002," he said. "And you can see we're expanding. We'll have a new building in 2008. We've got seven floors of wet specimens in the Darwin Centre. That means stuff in Formalin."

Everyday hallways led to a stench. "Jesus," someone muttered.

"Indeed," said Billy. "This is called the dermestarium." Through interior windows there were steel containers like little coffins. "This is where we clean up skeletons. Get rid of all the gunk on them. Dermestes maculatus."

A computer screen by the boxes was showing some disgusting salty-looking fish being eaten by insect swarms. "Eeurgh," someone said.

"There's a camera in the box," said Billy. "Hide beetles is their English name. They go through everything, just leave bones behind."

The boy grinned and tugged his father's hand. The rest of the group smiled, embarrassed. Flesh-eating bugs: sometimes life really was a B-movie.

Billy noticed one of the young men. He wore a past-it suit, a shabby-genteel outfit odd for someone young. He wore a pin on his lapel, a design like a long-armed asterisk, two of the spokes ending in curls. The man was taking notes. He was filling the pad he carried at a great rate.

A taxonomiser by inclination as well as profession, Billy had decided there were not so many kinds of people who took this tour. There were children: mostly young boys, shy and beside themselves with excitement, and vastly knowledgeable about what they saw. There were their parents. There were sheepish people in their twenties, as geeky-eager as the kids. There were their girlfriends and boyfriends, performing patience. A few tourists on an unusual byway.

And there were the obsessives.

They were the only people who knew more than the young children. Sometimes they did not speak: sometimes they would interrupt Billy's explanations with too-loud questions, or correct him on scientific detail with exhausting fussy anxiety. He had noticed more of such visitors than usual in the last several weeks.

"It's like late summer brings out the weirdos," Billy had said to his friend Leon, a few nights back, as they drank at a Thames pub. "Someone came in all Starfleet badges today. Not on my shift, sadly."

"Fascist," Leon had said. "Why are you so prejudiced against nerds?"

"Please," Billy said. "That would be a bit self-hating, wouldn't it?"

"Yeah, but you pass. You're like, you're in deep cover," Leon said. "You can sneak out of the nerd ghetto and hide the badge and bring back food and clothes and word of the outside world."

"Mmm, tasteful."

"Alright," Billy said as colleagues passed him. "Kath," he said to an ichthyologist; "Brendan," to another curator, who answered him, "Alright Tubular?"

"Onward please," said Billy. "And don't worry, we're getting to the good stuff."

Tubular? Billy could see one or two of his escortees wondering if they had misheard.

The nickname resulted from a drinking session in Liverpool with colleagues, back in his first year at the centre. It was the annual conference of the professional curatorial society. After a day of talks on methodologies and histories of preservation, on museum schemes and the politics of display, the evening's wind-down had started with polite how-did-you-get-into-this?, turned into everyone at the bar one by one talking about their childhoods, these meanderings, in boozy turn, becoming a session of what someone had christened Biography Bluff. Everyone had to cite some supposedly extravagant fact about themselves--they once ate a slug, they'd been part of a foursome, they tried to burn their school down, and so on--the truth of which the others would then brayingly debate.

Billy had straight-faced claimed that he had been the result of the world's first-ever successful in vitro fertilisation, but that he had been disavowed by the laboratory because of internal politics and a question mark over issues of consent, which was why the official laurel had gone to someone else a few months after his birth. Interrogated about details, he had with drunken effortlessness named doctors, the location, a minor complication of the procedure. But before bets were made and his reveal made, the conversation had taken a sudden turn and the game had been abandoned. It was two days later, back in London, before a lab-mate asked him if it was true.

"Absolutely," Billy had said, in an expressionless teasing way that meant either "of course," or "of course not." He had stuck by that response since. Though he doubted anyone believed him, the nickname "Test-tube" and variants were still used.

They passed another guard: a big, truculent man, all shaved head and muscular fatness. He was some years older than Billy, named Dane Something, from what Billy had overheard. Billy nodded and tried to meet his eye, as he always did. Dane Whatever, as he always did, ignored the little greeting, to Billy's disproportionate resentment.

As the door swung shut, though, Billy saw Dane acknowledge someone else. The guard nodded momentarily at the intense young man with the lapel pin, the obsessive whose eyes flickered in the briefest response. Billy saw that, in surprise--and just before the door closed between them--Dane looking at him.

Dane's acquaintance did not meet his eyes. "You feel it get cool?" Billy said, shaking his head. He sped them through time-release doors. "To stop evaporation. We have to be careful about fire. Because, you know, there's a fair old bit of alcohol in here, so . . ." With his hands he made a soft explosion.

The visitors stopped still. They were in a specimen maze. Ranked intricacies. Kilometres of shelves and jars. In each was a motionless floating animal. Even sound sounded bottled suddenly, as if something had put a lid on it all.

The specimens mindlessly concentrated, some posing with their own colourless guts. Flatfish in browning tanks. Jars of huddled mice gone sepia, grotesque mouthfuls like pickled onions. The...

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By John Kwok TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
China Mieville gives new meaning to the word "weird" in his outrageously funny and chilling contemporary fantasy novel, "Kraken", set in a London that's both oddly familiar and bizarre, inhabited by wizards and cultists obsessed with magic and myth. Mieville demonstrates anew that he is a uniquely confident master of genre and realistic mainstream fiction, playfully mixing up everything from hard-boiled detective fiction and horror to fantasy that owes more than a passing nod to J. K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" series and Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy, and one that is replete with contemporary references to such classic genre television series as the original "Star Trek" itself. He gives readers a whirlwind tour of a supernatural London where homicidal thieves, zealous religious cultists and wizards wage war to seek or to prevent humanity's extinction, seeking a missing giant squid from the British Museum of Natural History's Darwin Centre, a vast repository of stored natural history specimens, including the priceless few collected by Charles Darwin himself during his around-the-world HMS Beagle voyage. Darwin Centre curator Billy Harrow embarks on a perilous trek through London's supernatural realm, seeking not just the missing squid, but his very survival as he is caught in the titanic, bloody struggle involving zealous religious cultists worshipping the giant squid as a Deity, murderous thieves fluent in the art of magic, and diabolical magicians who see the squid as a talisman destined to bring about the "End of All Things". "Kraken" is destined to be remembered as a major classic of contemporary fantasy, written by someone I regard as the best young British writer of his generation, deservingly worthy of ample praise from both critics and fans for being both a compelling storyteller and a most elegant literary stylist. Without a doubt it is quite simply, a most important milestone in Mieville's already distinguished literary career.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By OpenMind TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Make no mistake: Mieville is unconventional in his concepts and writing style. That's not to say his work is inaccessible; far from. Despite having to look up the odd word in the dictionary ("eschatology" is one of my favourites), Kraken's fruits are within reach.
At its core, it is a caper story; a giant squid goes missing (is stolen?) from a museum, and the curator sets out to determine how it happened. He is quickly caught up in numerous layers of intrigue which happens to include a duo of deranged and phantasmagorical killers, competing doomsday cults, the power of the sea, and protective iPods. Mieville manages to weave it together into a cohesive, reality-bending page-turner. His imagination, humour, smarts, and ability to craft a compelling read make him a breath of fresh air in a field of uninspired fiction, let alone that of sci-fi/fantasy. The reward heavily outweighs the risk to one's preconceptions.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Squid Pro Quo Feb. 22 2013
By John M. Ford TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition
China Mieville scratches the surface of London and finds underneath a world of competing religious cults, sympathetic magic, and other-worldly conflict. Normal city-dwellers fade into background. The reader's immersion is total in this fantastic but gradually-understandable new reality.

An embalmed kraken, a forty-foot-long giant squid, disappears from a London museum where Billy Harrow is a curator. There is no imaginable way that the kraken and its tank of preserving fluid could have fit through any of the too-small exits. The theft is investigated, first by the London police, then by a secret police squad that deals with the occult, and finally by Billy and a member of the underground cult that worships the missing kraken.

The story begins slowly, but picks up as readers encounter odd characters with odd motives and oddly-constrained magical powers. The memorable cast includes:

Dane, a devout member of the Church of Kraken Almighty, carries a spear gun because a regular gun isn't "squiddy" enough.

Wati, the ghost of an ancient Egyptian slave, organized a modern labor movement among the other ghost slaves. He can only see and speak through statues, large or small.

Tattoo, an oversized face tattooed on another man's back. A ruthless crime lord, he rages because he's always facing the other way when interesting things happen.

Grisamentum, a departed mage, is the best off-stage character since Godot. His menacing, unseen presence brings the story's ink to life.

Strangest of all is the villainous, man-and-boy presence of Goss and Subby. There's no stopping or understanding Goss and Subby.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Multiple Apocalypses, Little Cohesion June 16 2011
By Alison S. Coad TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
"Kraken"is the latest novel by the great British sf/f author China Mieville and, like all his work, it's chock-full of wild ideas and concepts and conceits. This time, though, it feels more like a "throw in the kitchen sink" kind of wildness; it feels to me lacking in the discipline that he brings to most of his writing. This novel posits a "hidden London" wherein occult churches, arcane cults and mages live, where magic is something real and specific to specific talents, and, oh, yeah, the end of the world is coming. Well, the end of the world is *always* coming in this London because numerous cults have their End Days planned out, but this time it seems like it really is. Young Billy Harrow is a curator at the Natural History Museum (which houses, pickled, Darwin's early specimens, found on his voyage on The Beagle) who specializes in celaphods; in fact, he's worked on the giant (dead) squid the museum houses. When it suddenly, impossibly, disappears, he finds himself discovering hidden London, where some people (the Church of the Kraken especially) think he's a prophet, others think he's the guardian of special knowledge, and yet others seek to use him to bring about their own ends. Some of the individuals he meets are very unpleasant indeed; some of them become his friends and helpers. Under chaotic circumstances, can Billy and his friends prevent the true apocalypse, the one using timefire to burn everything away so that it never has existed at all?.... As always, the writing is tight (and very clever; I noticed times when Mieville deliberately chops up a sentence in uncomfortable ways, to keep the reader off-guard and on edge) and some of the imagery is searing and memorable. Read more ›
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Amazon.com: 3.3 out of 5 stars  181 reviews
88 of 103 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dark and different, scary and humorous. May 25 2010
By Wulfstan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
A fascinating new novel by China Miéville, author of Perdido Street Station, which won the 2001 Arthur C. Clarke Award the 2001 British Fantasy Award, and was nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, Locus and British Science Fiction awards. (He also wrote "King Rat", but not the "King Rat" that is set in a WWII POW Camp. )

The publishers would like you to think that it's similar to Neil Gaiman, and sure, two of the villains in this story are reminiscent of "the Old Firm"(but nastier, if that's possible). But I see more Tim Powers and James Blaylock, with more than a touch of H.P. Lovecraft (or maybe it's just all those tentacles....).

It's technically Urban Fantasy, set in more or less modern day London. But it also has more than a little horror. And, oddly enough- it has some rather humorous bits too. Both scary and funny at times. The authors obvious love for and deep knowledge of London gives the book added depth.

Our protagonist is swept along by events and people (and things) he hadn't any concept of in his prior life as a museum curator. He is forced out of his humdrum existence by the impossible theft of a giant squid pickled in a huge tank of formalin, a kraken that he himself had a hand in preserving.

Enlivened by some interesting and original characters, including a few new deities and religions, it's entirely a different kettle of cuttlefish than your usual urban fantasy. It's also not a book you want to read yourself to sleep with. (The tentacles!!!!! Eeeeeeeeeeee!)

It's different. It's dark. It's scary. It's different. It's humorous. It's well written. It's worth reading. It's... did I say different?
96 of 115 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Congregation of the God Kraken, more AND less... May 31 2010
By R S Cobblestone - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
In Kraken, London is a strange place, a city with characters and entities having strange powers, a place of bizarre creatures, and a mystery or two.

Museum curator Billy Harrow goes from having a normal, simple life, giving tours and preparing specimens, to a creepy, haunted one in the midst of a frenzied search for a stolen specimen of a giant squid from his museum. There is a Congregation of the God Kraken, you see. God was just stolen. Who stole it is a mystery, but there is no mystery that, whoever took it, others now see its value, and want to recover it. Billy is thought to know more than he lets on, so he also becomes a target of this search.

There's a deep complexity to this story, and to author China Mieville's writing:

"He had been a point of awareness, a soul-spot, a sentient submerged node, and had drifted over an ocean floor that he had seen in monochrome, lightless as it would have been, and that had pitched suddenly into a crevasse, a Mariana Trench of water like clothed shadow." This was a bit of Billy's dreaming... inspired by the kraken?

There are mysterious and unique characters here. Tattoo, Wati, Jason, Subby and Goss... And the real folk, Dane and Collingswood and Marge (as well as Billy), each have their own learning curve and adventures.

But this was a story that seemed... excessive. The detail dampened my enthusiasm for the tale. It became a chore to continue to read. And when the twists and turns came to their conclusion, I was left with a sense of relief, not of knowing how things turned out, but that it was over. Ouch. Mieville seems to have been caught up in developing the minutiae of actions, conversations, and interactions. The detail drove the story, instead of the story driving the detail.

The Star Trek connection, including a working phaser, was a stretch. And the inability of "normal" folk to have any clue that all this magic is happening around them all the time was also strange. After all, London's newspapers are so competitive that you think any weirdness would hit the front page. Everybody would be looking out for eccentric characters, wouldn't they?

I noted the sage comments of the Teuthex, or high priest of the kraken worshippers, concerning religion:

"'I'm asking you all to have faith. Don't be afraid. 'How could it have gone wrong?' people have asked me. 'Why aren't the gods doing anything?' Remember two things. The gods don't owe us anything. That's not why we worship. We worship because they're gods. This is their universe, not ours. What they choose they choose and it's not ours to know why."

I didn't like the book. That's different than saying it was bad, or incomplete, or poorly written. It just wasn't my cup of squid ink.
59 of 70 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing! May 30 2010
By P. B. Sharp - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
China Mieville writes like nobody else. Exceedingly erudite (he has a PhD) he throws many words you've never heard of into this fantastic brew taking place in his London- and London to him is a huge living thing, a great breathing, crouching beast. Windows rattle and bricks speak and of course there's plenty of swirling fog to top everything off. His writing is quirky, he uses highly inventive similes such as "Bits of rubbish shifted in gusts, crawled on the pavement like bottom feeders." London is alive if not well.

Mieville carries you with him with great skill. You're there. You shudder. You shiver. You laugh. He takes you into the bowels of London. He wraps you the reader in a supernatural cocoon where all the ends are tied up and you can't escape. Where bizarre events and supernatural goings- on appear quite normal. You are plunged into a surrealistic world of strange cults, pagan apocalypses and god-like reptiles."Kraken" is concentrated New Weird which takes a bit of time to get used to.

The action starts when Billy Harrow, the unassuming curator of mollusks in the Darwin Center is leading a group of visitors on a tour when he discovers the Center's star attraction, an eight meter long giant squid preserved in a huge tank of formalin, has disappeared tank and all. It is unthinkable, it is impossible but there is a great gaping space where the squid used to be.

Billy embarks on a mission to solve the mystery and he is plunged into a surrealistic world of twisted and peculiar events, and crosses the path of strange cults, all fighting each other to conquer with their own particular apocalypse.

Somehow the disappearance of the giant squid has set in motion a series of horrible events, an Armageddon which will destroy the world. This is a roller coaster ride and the reader finds he is sucked into a world that is impossible yet believable. That's part of Mieville's genius: he makes the outré, the fantastic, the surreal quite believable. There is a holy war going on with a giant squid as a god and some are not taking the theft of their god well.

Billy has a large supporting cast, but he remains the pivotal character of the book, unassuming, modest and rather endearing. The local London police have a special division called the Fundamentalist and Sect related Crime Unit, its most illustrious member being the brash, witchy no- holds- barred Kath Collingswood "trendily unkempt." Dane, who is a worker at the Darwin Museum, belongs to a Krakenist cult and isn't a bit happy about the theft of the squid-god. Dane and Billy join ranks with Wati, a member of the spirit world who insinuates himself into strange objects, statues, stares through "wooden eyes on a Jesus" He sometimes inhabits nerdy objects, too, such as Star Trek's Captain Kirk.(Mieville is gently pulling our leg here). Crime lord Tattoo with his terrifying undead henchmen, Goss and Subby is Billy's chief antagonist.

Will the snarled, convoluted groups of squid worshipers get their giant mollusk back safely in the Darwin Center? Can Armageddon be held at bay? Ah, you have to read the book and you're in for a different, very different reading experience. The novel is 500 pages long but you'll be swept into that cocoon where Mieville imprisons you and he's not going to let you go! You may never have given a thought before to a giant squid, but you will now!
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Architeuthis infernalis June 16 2010
By Kieri - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
While the publisher's blurbs all blather about this story being "Lovecraftian," Cthulhu enthusiasts need not apply. There's an annoying trend in literary circles - if it's got tentacles, it's got to be an homage to Lovecraft. What this book REALLY feels like is a mash-up of Neil Gaiman's Greatest Hits...we've got old gods and small gods and city gods and ancient gods (American Gods and Sandman) and strangely literal cultists and underworlders, not to mention the "Old Firm," Goss and Subby (Neverwhere) and a tough-as-nails young female cop who sounds an awful lot like Anathema from Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, only with a mild case of Tourettes. (Don't get me wrong; Collingswood was absolutely my favorite character.)

Mieville has always been a grand master of weirdness, but in Kraken, I think he may have gone a bit too far. The Britspeak is overwhelming at times, but that isn't all of it - the real trouble is that half the book feels like one long smash-cut in a movie. Things happen very, very quickly, and with very little explaination, and some of the characters were underdeveloped to the point that I couldn't understand why they were doing certain things, or even HOW they came to do them. Sure, I understood what was going on by the end, but for the first 350-400 pages I needed to flip back over and over to remind myself of what I just read a few pages back.

There are a lot of genuinely brilliant moments in Kraken that kept me going all the way to the end - the origin of Wati being my personal favorite - and I do always enjoy Mieville's peculiar way with language. I'd recommend this to Neil Gaiman fans, of course, but mostly to fans of Mieville's other work. Mieville is still better on his worst day than most authors dream of being, but I don't think this book will go down as one best works.
32 of 41 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Londonmancers Can't Save This Mediocre Novel June 18 2010
By J. Avellanet - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I've read all of Mieville's novels available to date - and Kraken is his most mediocre. There is too much going on of little relevance (the sidebar storyline with one of the side characters' girlfriends, for instance) that a self-respecting editor should have strongly encouraged Mr. Mieville to cut or otherwise restrict to the truly necessary.

The core plotline follows Billy Harrow, a mid-level museum scientist who's thrust into a secondary world that exists behind-the-scenes in modern-day London full of space-time traveling murderers, magicians (Londonmancers), weird religious cults, urban shamans, and other magical creatures and criminals. Readers who remember the 1990s role-playing game Shadowrun, with its blend of cyberpunk and urban fantasy, will feel right at home in Mieville's London.

Billy, with various cohorts, must figure out who has stolen the Kracken exhibit from his museum and how they did so without spilling a drop of water or leaving any mundane clues. Thus ensues a host of mayhem, intrigue, and sleuthing by Billy and numerous secondary characters.

I imagine Mr. Mieville must have had a flowchart or some other diagram to keep track of the various storylines and interconnections in the book; he does do a masterful job. And after reading Kraken, I'm sure you'll have to agree that few authors do it better.

That said, I did not find the book went as smoothly and as enjoyably as many other Mieville novels. There were sections with some of the characters where you may be so intent on getting back to Billy's adventures that you'll find yourself skimming.

And this leads me to my main criticism of Kraken: if a reader finds him/herself skimming, there is too much, especially too much that is superfluous to the main story. It's almost as if Mr. Mieville had one-and-a-half novels set in this magical, cyberpunk London. Rather than simply focusing on Billy Harrow with perhaps one or two side story threads, he adds in several more side-stories (that could've easily formed the basis for a second novel in this setting) and thus overstuffs the story.

If you've read other Mieville books - and particularly if you felt that Iron Council was simply "okay" - you'll likely have the same reaction to Kraken. If you've not read Mieville before, there is much better out there such as Perdido Street Station and King Rat.
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