The Short Version: After a preserved giant squid up and disappears from the depths of London’s Natural History Museum, Billy Harrow finds himself mixed up in a world he never knew existed. Warring cultists, gods, magic, and an absolutely certain apocalypse – among other things – send Billy and others into a race against time to find the missing squid. Because whoever gets the squid gets the apocalypse – and the world is going to burn…
The Review: I don’t even know entirely how to think about this book. I heard great things about it when it came out nearly a year ago – and Miéville is one of those hip authors I’ve been told I would like. Kraken seemed like a good starting point – it’s more grounded in reality and would give me an opportunity to experience his voice without the overwhelming Weird that (apparently) comes with a bunch of other books. I mean, he’s at the fore of New Weird, so I guess that makes sense.
And I’m at the point where I don’t know whether or not I’d like to read another one of his books. I think I do – I think I want to read The City & The City or Un Lun Dun or his newest, Embassytown. But that doesn’t change the fact that this book felt like, for much of it, I was continually getting myself into a sparring match. Not a fight – books that you have to fight are not good books and this is not a not-good book. Just a sparring match – where you’re going to come out a little bruised and a little sore and maybe someone through a bit too hard of a punch and you’re gonna be wincing a bit. It’s not an entirely pleasant experience but it also isn’t an unpleasant experience, you know? That’s the overwhelming vibe of reading Kraken.
The story itself is promising and interesting – but the novel (and I’m surprised that no major reviewers pointed to this…) is far too much like Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere for my comfort. Things happening in museums, a strange magical underground (literal OR metaphorical) society, even down to two creepy and strange-talking hitmen. Granted, Goss and Subby are pretty radically different from Croup and Vandemar once you get to the facts of their reality… but when you deal with the on-the-page realities, two creepy guys hunting down our confused main character and talking in strange archaic ways = too similar for my liking. Indeed, the whole novel has far too many overarching similarities to Gaiman’s (far superior) novel. The specifics are not the same but the broad themes are and that’s what bothered me – because I didn’t feel like Miéville was stealing from Gaiman but rather that he trying his own attempt at a similar novel and as a result it just pales in the comparison. It’s a 60w lightbulb to a 100w.
There’s a lot of good about the novel, though. Sure, it’s a bit too long (like… 100 pages too long) but the man is relentless with his writing. It does. not. let. up. From the first pages, it just sort of zips away like a run-away train. Or like any other metaphor you care to use. Sometimes it wobbles like a drunk, to the point that you’re sure it’s going to fall over like the last move in a Jenga game…. but somehow it stays upright and keeps tottering forward. (sorry, having too much fun just now.) That simple fact – the constant feeling of forward motion – is what makes this book engaging. Even when I felt like I had to put it down because I felt like I’d just taken a pretty serious hit in the kidney or something, I was back to it shortly thereafter… because I couldn’t keep away. I wanted to know how things were going to work out. I wanted to get resolution. I wanted to hear more about “Goss and fuckin’ Subby!” and the goddamn Teuthies and the fact that a Star Trek phaser from the original series was magicked (“knacked” as they put it) into being a real working phaser was pretty awesome. So I was enjoying myself even as I was wincing from the physical and mental battering that this novel sort of puts you through.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5. Really tough for me to come up with a rating for this. I think that it’s a good book and Miéville is a good writer and the concept is certainly worth the mental exercise… but I also felt like the book was all over the place, the conclusion was an ungodly (pun maybe intended) mess, and it should have been shorter. That’s the biggest flaw: there was definitely 100 pages or more of people just running around being crazy and trying to figure out what’s going on… that was exactly like the 100 pages that had come before. There was no real need for it, as there was no character development, no plot movement, just a whole lot of more trying to figure things out and feeling very, very frustrated. That’s what docks the book the most, leaving it just above the mid-point. I’ll let you know (obviously) what comes from future Miéville novels – I think the jury’s still out for me on his style.