Kraken by China Mieville


Holy squid, I finally finished Kraken. I have been working on this book through 3 renewals (that’s 9 weeks, people) and last night I turned the final page. My exact thought after finishing was “I know I have been complaining about how hard this book was but now I’m sorry I’m done.”

It is impossible to really describe this book. On the surface, it’s the story of a cephalod expert at London’s Natural History Museum named Billy, whose only claim to fame is that he preserved a giant squid and now leads tours to show it off. When the squid inexplicably vanishes, Billy (and you, dear reader) discover that London has a secret, supernatural underbelly that many do not even suspect, and that the stolen kraken may just bring about Armageddon. There are countless people who could have stolen the squid, and for all sorts of dangerous reasons – and Billy needs a crash course in who’s who in the supernatural world before he can even begin to comprehend what trouble he is in.

This book is fascinating. The characters you meet range from clueless mortal Billy to Wati, the Union Boss of the Underworld, who makes sure that familiars, golems and what-have-you are treated fairly by their wizard masters. There is Dane, who was an assassin for the Church of God Kraken (a squid cult) but has now been excommunicated for helping Billy, who the church sees as a possible prophet. There is a secret police division that deals exclusively with cults and supernatural critters (the Fundamentalist and Sect-Related Crime Unit), and a collection of the most frightening magical thugs you will ever encounter in any book ever. You will love each and every one of the good guys (the book is worth reading just to get to know Constable Collingswood of the aforementioned FSRC), and fear the bad guys – when you can tell the difference, which admittedly sometimes you can’t.

Word of warning – this book is hard to read. I had to have a dictionary and the Internet handy every minute, because Mieville’s vocabulary is extremely difficult. The dictionary can handle the merely big complicated words, but you’ll need the Internet to identify the origins of some of the religions and critters you encounter. You’ll also need the Urban Dictionary to decipher the London slang, and brush up on your Latin for the words he seems to have made up out of several different roots put together in no particular order. More than once I Googled a word or phrase and got no results other than message boards full of people saying “I’m reading Kraken and I can’t find this word anywhere. . .”*

But don’t let that stop you. After a certain point, it’s okay to just give up and gloss over the hard words, because the context helps you figure out enough to follow along (or rather, get dragged along). The pure adrenaline rush of adventure is so worth it.

I’d give you some read-alikes, but frankly, I have never read anything quite like this book. MAYBE The Master and Margarita by Mikail Bulgakov? It has that same sort of all-hell-breaks-loose feel, with characters that are familiar because they are based on historical/mythological/supernatural standards. If you like YA, I suppose it is vaguely similar to Michael Scott’s Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series, or Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series for that idea that there are many worlds out there, and some people can exist in more than one.

*Incidentally, if anyone can figure out what the phrase “caned a cigarette” means, I would be immensely grateful.


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