Kraken by China Mieville – Capsule Book Review

A literate novel about odd, cleverly-conceived cults who worship ancient gods and primal forces; a magical reality right under our noses (set in London, no less!); an epic end-of-days scope worthy of Joss Whedon; not to mention a squad of occult police officers — these are all the crazy elements that I’d love in a novel. Maybe it was the overly-cryptic style, the snarkiness of the characters, or the assumptions of a much more in-tune readership (judging by Mieville’s popularity, I guess I’m the only one that keeps missing the boat — and missing the joke, apparently), but I really didn’t like Kraken much at all. I wanted to, though, and I could almost feel it. We start off with Billy Harrow, an unwitting museum curator who’s dragged into a secret underworld in fictional, modern-day London when a giant squid (aka the Kraken) is stolen from the Museum of Natural History. Some people think Billy’s behind it, or involved and others just want to kill him. He dodges squid-sects, pontiffs, police officers, supernatural assassins, unionized magical familiars, angels of memory (the list goes on, and only gets weirder) while trying to figure out what’s really happening. (I sure wish I could help you, Billy, but I was way more confused than you were.) Not only did I find the story confounding — not even really understanding what was happening from one scene to the next (the Sea is a god? a what?) — but I also didn’t understand many of the characters. I didn’t understand their jokes, their threats, or why they were doing what they were doing. Who was on whose side? Who was trying to get to Billy, and who was trying to help him? Unfortunately this novel is not one of those that you can fake-read your way through and still enjoy. While I could loosely string together an understanding of the narrative, it left me high and dry when it came to understanding the point of it all. Sadly this was not my first Mieville. I had already tried to make it through the children’s novel (yes, I mean KIDS’ book) Unlundun with almost as much, nay even more, befuddlement than this book. At least I had the benefit of the audiobook this time which added some animation and voices to the whole experience. I feel like this book deserves to be a 4.5, but for me it was only barely a 3 out of 5.

“the sea is full of saints” – fan art by tasper

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