Saturday 21 June 2014

Kraken by China Miéville

China Miéville is one of the most interesting writers around, and unlike most modern authors who just drop into a comfortable series groove, he has produced a remarkably varied body of work. The City and The City (reviewed on this blog in March 2012) just blew me away, and is the finest new work categorised as SFF to come my way in many years. I say "categorised as" because I'm not really sure what genre it fits into, but it certainly isn't mainstream! On the other hand, I have been less impressed by his other work I have read so far, and didn't even finish Perdito Station.

Kraken ticks important boxes, as it's one of many "parallel supernatural contemporary London" books (and series) kicked off by Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, although the origins could arguably be traced to Christopher Fowler's Roofworld and Rune (all of which I really must read again sometime), if not even further back. Other authors to have published novels recently in what has virtually become a sub-genre of its own include Tony Ballantyne, Kate Griffin, Ben Aaronovitch and Benedict Jacka. If anyone knows of any others, please tell me!

So I settled down to read Kraken with great anticipation. The protagonist is Billy Harrow, a biologist and an expert on giant squid. He is responsible for the preservation and care of a remarkable specimen on display in the Natural History museum – which disappears one night, complete with its huge tank of preservative. Billy discovers that there is a previously unsuspected magical underworld in the city, including a Church of the Kraken that worships the giant squid as a god. There are many others who are interested in discovering what happened to the Kraken, as well as a very special branch of the police who are well aware of the supernatural underworld. Billy is hunted through London by various evil and highly baroque villains including the Tattoo and the horrifying Goss and Subby, as they believe that he knows where the Kraken may be found and that the fate of the giant squid may presage that of the entire world.

I initially found the story hard to get into, partly because I was short of reading time and rarely managed to read more than a few chapters every now and then. Since the story is complex with many characters, this made remembering who was who and what they were doing to each other a considerable struggle each time I picked up the book. At one point I nearly stopped reading, but remained sufficiently interested to persevere, which is just as well because the pace gradually picked up and the flow of twists, turns and surprises held my attention to the end. Although I did have a few nagging doubts about the internal logic of the conclusion…

In summary; worth persevering with, but make sure that you can devote the time to give your full attention to it.


dlw said...

I read it a few months ago. It held my interest until near the end, when it lost coherency, Perhaps it was literary, but it reminded me of one of those Japanese movies that spends most of its time destroying Tokyo.

It's on my "read again someday" list, just in case I missed the point somewhere.

Anthony G Williams said...

I'm keeping my copy as well, although I doubt that I'll ever get around to reading it again: too many books, not enough time!