Book Review: Kraken by China Miéville
Kraken follows Bill Harrow, a researcher and scientist at the Museum of Natual History in London. An expert on mollusks, Billy was responsible for the preservation efforts of the museum’s most popular exhibits — the giant squid, affectionately nicknamed “Archie”. One day out of the blue, the gargantuan specimen goes missing, and Billy finds himself thrown into a side of London he never knew existed, a world of magic, secret cults, doomsday prophecies and supernatural creatures.
This novel, while technically can be considered urban fantasy, is certainly unlike anything I’ve seen in the genre. In fact, I can probably file this one under the “Weirdest books I’ve ever read” shelf. What an interesting experience for my first book by China Miéville, an author I’ve been hearing great things about from my friends and reader reviews.
In retrospect, I wonder if Kraken was such a good choice for my first taste of Miéville. For a while, I’d had my eyes on a couple of his well-known books, namely Perdido Street Station and The City & The City, but decided in the end to tackle something more recent. I’d been told beforehand by fans of Miéville, however, that Kraken is quite unlike many of his other books.
I thought I was prepared for anything, but this book was still nothing like I expected. The first quarter of the book was the most “normal” part, which set up the story and drew me in right away. After that, everything started spiraling out of control. More than a few times, I felt as confused as Billy.
But even as Kraken gets increasingly abstract, it is a strangeness that is familiar to me, one that is almost reminiscent of works by Neil Gaiman. It is a style I can appreciate, though probably not one I’d prefer if I was being honest with myself. Still, I was quite content with the actual story and its mystery, and I was particularly thrilled with the pop culture references like Star Trek, and the author incorporating a real life Tribble and an actual working phaser gun into this book.
In truth, it was the prose that somewhat disaffected me. China Miéville likes to use many words and he uses them very well, but too much of that and it can quickly get out of hand. At some parts of the book, this kills the momentum completely, making it difficult to connect with the world of the characters when you’re frequently distracted by so much that is superfluous to the main story. By the the time I got to the final chapters, I realized all I wanted to do was get the book over with and find out what happens so I could move on.
I’m definitely planning to read more from the author, but in the future I would probably choose more carefully. Kraken had a good start, and featured some interesting ideas and a great premise, but reading it was a little exhausting despite the fact it’s not an overly long book. Still, I hear Miéville has quite a varied writing style and I’m looking forward to checking out some of his other more straightforward works.