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Profile Image for Nataliya.
785 reviews12.5k followers
September 1, 2022
Unpredictable, funny, and chock-full of weird with a side of SQUIDDITY apocalypse - and yet (oh blasphemy!) Kraken is my first 3-starred Miéville. This hurts my fangirl soul.

But here's the thing - even the weakest book by His Chinaness is still better that the strongest offerings of most other writers. Therefore me giving it 3 stars in NO WAY puts it in the same category that some of the drecks that I've read. I liked this one? It's just that it in NO WAY measures up to the usual amazing and brain-popping experience I came to expect from CM.

I think of this book as a grittier weirder Miéville-edition of Gaiman's Neverwhere. The strange "other" London where things are not what they seem, Goss & Subby = Croup and Vandemar, Billy is another Richard Mayhews, the ordinary wide-eyed chap dragged through the ever-escalating weirdness by experienced warriors, destined for something bigger in the end. But really, Gaiman is more Miéville-lite whereas Miéville is Gaiman full roast, black, hold creamer and sugar, add extra weird. Usually this would be a recipe for success as far as I'm concerned. Alas, Kraken misses the mark a bit...

(All this sea creature talk in the book makes me crave the SQUIDDITY deliciousness, y'all!)

Now, here's what I loved - for the sake of the oreo-cookie effect here (yes, calamari squid talk DID make me hungry, so 'scuse me) - before breaking my heart with the less awesome parts:
"In a city like London... Stop: that was an unhelpful way to think about it, because there was no city like London. That was the point."
- Miéville is amazing at creating fully alive weird cities and making them be real protagonists of his stories (examples: New Crobuzon, Armada, Beszél/Ul Qoma, UnLondon). Here, his setting is contemporary London that apparently has a secret supernatural side to it, which is still firmly ground in reality. I mean, it's the place where the paranormal creatures form picket lines, for crying out loud.
"The strike paralysed large sections of occult industry. The economy of gods and monsters was stagnating."

"There were pickets of insects, pickets of birds, pickets of slightly animate dirt. There were circles of striking cats and dogs, surreptitious doll-pickets like grubby motionless picnics; and flesh-puppets, pickets of what looked like and in some cases had once been humans.
Which neatly takes me to my next point:

- Miéville is unabashedly joyful about airing out of his political views - on politics of labor and religion in this case. Ever since reading London's Overthrow I have extra-appreciated the political musings of Dr. Miéville, PhD, the proud author of Between Equal Rights: A Marxist Theory of International Law.
'He knows religion is bollocks,' Collingswood said. 'He just wishes he didn't. That's why he understands the nutters. That's why he hunts them. He misses pure faith. He's jealous.'
- There are so many side characters that are unbelievably fascinating and each one of them could easily merit an entire book to him/herself. The cast is quite an interesting ensemble, to say the least. However...
--------------------- brings me to the "bad" part of the oreo cookie metaphor (actually, kind of a reversed oreo cookie, since honestly, the middle is the best part, but bear with me here, I'm hungry, okay?)

- With all the awesome side characters and fascinating side plots, this book is too overstuffed with more awesome than this story can take (maybe if he had spread the ideas over a trilogy it would have worked better). There are too many plots and ideas that he tries to tie together to make a coherent story - and it is not that successful of an attempt, honestly. The main storyline becomes not only hard to follow but is almost impossible to identify, leaving the reader to just blindly go along on this crazy ride. And combined with...

- ... the uneven pacing, it can get frustrating. Seriously, this is the first time in my Miéville-reading experience (6 books, a few short stories) that I felt the pacing was poorly done. In some sections, the story drags, in others it moves along at lightning-speed, giving you a whiplash.

- And, finally, despite the palpable threat, despite the fights and weirdness and humor, I found it hard to care about what is going to happen. The characters failed to make me completely invested in them (Billy? Ugh. Collingswood? Bleh. Dane Parnell? Kinda, but ergh. Wati? Yeah, but not enough.) I did not feel very invested, it did not have the now-expected thought-provoking quality, and did not leave me in the vague state of unease that I came to cherish as a part of my Miéville reading experience. In short, the book never became dull, but never became quite that interesting.
And to finish off the reverse Oreo comparison - here is the final layer - the good one. All the griping aside, it was a fun read, even though not the most memorable. The sheer amount of bizarro is enough to keep you chuckling and perhaps having quite vivid dreams (I know I did while reading this!). It is fun as usual to see Miéville allow his imagination run wild, taking us on the crazy plot turns that nobody could have predicted coming. It is not deep or profound or thought-provoking, but it's a good and honest fun.
"Just because someone uses something wrong doesn't mean it's useless."
Final verdict - 3 stars. Read this one if you are an established Miéville fan. Probably stay clear of it if you're just trying to get into CM writing - pick up "Perdido Street Station", "Un Lun Dun", "The Scar" or "The City & The City instead and leave this for the time when you're so hooked on Miéville that you are ready to read even his grocery list (and believe me, that time WILL come!)
"You may not be interested in the gods of London, but they're interested in you."


And here is what Mr. Miéville himself has to say about Kraken (Courtesy of Seak (Bryce L.) - the interview is here; thanks, Catie, for pointing it out to me!):

Kraken, by contrast, was a kind of loving valedictory to what I hope is an enjoyable but rather chaotic kitchen-sink excess of the Bas-Lag books. It's a book all about totality, it's full of stuff, it attempts - whether successfully or not - to make a virtue of a certain kind of, I hope not exactly ill-discipline, but sort of distraction, like the book itself gets distracted, but that those distractions, I hope, are engaging. (Something that no one I've ever read does as well as Pynchon, to whom this book is, among other things, a tentacular pulp homage.)

Recommended by: Catie


Also posted on my blog.
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,516 reviews11.2k followers
January 11, 2012 my excitement, I seem to have Mievilled all over myself. Pardon my gush.

So the ONLY reason this gatling blast of brainstorming outréness is not yet nesting on my all time favorite shelf along with  Perdido Street Station and The City & The City is that my feeble grey matter is still trying to process whattheFrench I just read. I grasped the big picture, though my neurons were white-knuckled and straining, but there were so, so, SO many reference gems, idea snippets, bizarre sound bytes and fluttering flashes of “just beyond the real” that I’m convinced I will be picking flakes of fantastic out of the narrative even after completing a second reading of this artwork.

 Not quite as ground-breaking as Perdido Street Station or as technically brilliant an execution as The City & The City, but with more densely packed, hip-literate prose and myth-spiced techno-jargon as both of those books combined. This is word-sensei writing and full-throttle imagination paired with hyper-threaded story-crafting on a scale that only Mieville himself has ever even come close to before.

 This is a hard-core concept porn performance by the biggest, girthiest word-smither working in the spec-fic industry today. Despite my brain gasping for oxygen and begging for a moment of calm in the story’s relentless prose storm, the eyegasms kept coming and coming on almost every page. It has been a while since I have been this impressed by the combo of prodigious imagination and the writing chops to get it all effectively on the vellum.

 This is a roller-coaster into otherness just beyond perception and my captivation meter was pinned on lock down every single minute of the story.


 A plot summary for this book doesn’t really seem fitting, but I will give it the short and sweet so I can move on to the good stuff.

 “London was full of dissident gods.”

 Billy Harrow works at the Darwin Institute where the prized exhibit is a preserved specimen of Architeuthis (i.e., a giant squid). While conducting a tour of the institute, “Archie” miraculously disappears and sets off a countdown to the apocalypse featuring the most imaginative rogue’s gallery in the history of literature (yes, in all of literature). From ink-born tattoo crime lords, to chaos Nazis and the most bizarre pair of supernatural hitmen since writing found paper. 


Mieville’s primary focus in this story is on deconstructing the underpinnings and motivations for religious belief. Actually, it’s much, much more grand and "in your grill" than the why's and wherefores of religious belief (not to mention more basic in its reader applicability), but I don’t want to give hints regarding the actual philosophical boxing match at the heart of the narrative. Thus, since religious belief forms the surface narrative thread and Mieville has a creative explosion discussing a plethora of apocalyptic religious sects and their faith tenets, I will let the explanation suffice.

While addressing big, serious issues of innerness and autochthonal psychology relating to why humans think and act the way they do, Mieville spreads his insight over a canvas that is a most fascinating riff on the magical London memorialized by such pop staples as Harry Potter and Neil Gaiman. However, this is a London that has more in common with New Crobuzon than it does with Hogwarts and Mieville drenches this background in his unique brand of the politically-charged new weird.

For example, at one point the plot picks up that the Union of Magical Assistants (UMA) has gone on strike. In typical Mievilleian fashion, he describes it thusly:
There were pickets of insects, pickets of birds, pickets of slightly animate dirt. There were circles of striking cats and dogs, surreptitious doll-pickets like grubby motionless picnics; and flesh-puppets, pickets of what looked like and in some cases had once been humans.

Not all the familiars were embodied. But even those magicked assistants who eschewed all physicality were on strike. So – a picket line in the unearth. A clot of angry vectors, a verdigris-like stain on the air, an excitable parameter. Mostly, in the middlingly complex space-time where people live, these pickets looked like nothing at all. Sometimes they felt like warmth or a gauzy clot of caterpillar threads hanging from a tree, or a sense of guilt.
That kind of writing and descriptions just floors me and makes my brain juice bubble. And these kinds of paragraphs are all over this work.

Now, is it true that the plot can be rather Gordian in its knottiness and more than a little jumbled for wide swathes of the story? Yes, granted. The narrative is dense and the visibility can at times be limited behind a curtain of swirling fog. My reaction...I could care less, because I trust my navigator to get me to my destination. I just thank Cthulhu that I'm not the one driving.

Bottom-line, this is an experience book, where the journey through clever, gorgeous prose is worth a few scratches of head and the beauty and majesty of the commentary more than outweighs the periodic moments of stunned confusion. Until I've read this again (and maybe again) I will continue to believe that my befuddlement is entirely my fault and China Mieville has done precisely what he set out to do. 

I am a fan and this book has only deepened my respect for this singularly gifted individual. This novel squeezed my brain and left it wrung out, twisted and parched. I am thankful and happy as a result. 

Profile Image for Joel.
556 reviews1,668 followers
June 9, 2011

Oh hey. An lolcat.That's new. But wait, because even though they are 1,000,000 years old in internet time, lolcats are only kittens in "offline" time, by which I mean the time by which your parents live their lives (go on, check your email right now: your dad just forwarded you a bunch of them. Hahaha Invisible Bike. I forgot about that one).

Moreover, judged by the molasses pace of the publishing industry, they're younger still. So I give props to China Miéville (you're only getting that acute accent once in this review, so enjoy it) for offering up perhaps the first blatant lolcat reference in what could be termed a major novel (certainly the only one to receive a starred review in Booklist). (This book does not count.)

But that's just one fun thing in this very fun book, one fun thing out of many. About 200 pages in, I started ripping off a tiny scrap of my bookmark every time I came across an idea so cool it would probably be a major plot point in a book less crazily mescaline-fueled. Very soon I ran out of bookmark. To be fair, I was using an oversized Post-It. Still. I don't recall making scraps of anything whilst reading Boneshaker, another ostensibly punk-leaning sci-fi romp that boringly stretches out a handful of Mieville's cast-offs into a sad excuse for an adventure.

I don't want to spoil everything. A few things were spoiled for me. Like I knew there was a real, working phaser in there. But no one told me about the real, working Tribble. One lovable character speaks through inhabiting statues, and his idea of what constitutes a statue is very broad indeed (imagine: portentous dialogue between a squid cultist and a pencil topper shaped like a unicorn). Three bad guys that are worthy enough to have their own books but don't even rate as this one's mastermind (granted, the man behind the curtain is usually just a man). Also there are these guys who read the future in London's entrails. Like, literal entrails: they cut through and pry apart pavement and the city has literal blood and organs and stuff. I spoiled that one because it was my first bookmark, but for the rest I will give page numbers: 200. 208. 234. 288. 303. 308. 322. 329. 362. 374. 385. 420 (NO WAY!). 463. I hope I got them all. Some of the pieces of paper were very small. That's probably going to be pretty annoying for the next library patron.

That's not to say it's a 5 star book, because it isn't. In fact, I am giving it 3.5, which is less than I gave The City & the City even though I had more fun reading Kraken. Because for all the ideas crammed in here (ink! squirting from the pages! um, literally at several points!), the story... is not so hot. I mean, it sounds cool, but a stolen squid god macguffin is still a macguffin, and a bland hero is still a bland hero. And the central character here is bland. He's your patented outsider, introduced into a crazy world (UnLunDun! Squid cults Gunfarmers! Paranormal cops! Wizards' familiars striking for better working conditions!) just so he can say "What the fuck?" and other characters can explain things to him. Though China is British, our hero does not, sadly, say "Wot's all this then?" though he would certainly be justified in doing so.

I was never bored or anything, don't get me wrong. Also I don't know if it would be possible to get bored reading this, unless you are bored by awesome. But sometimes it is almost boring, in that you don't really feel for any of the characters (even though I really like and would read a sequel starring several of them), and the story tends to wander off into these nifty-idea side-plots that don't strictly go anywhere. And something about reading Mieville, both of the ones I have picked up, anyway, makes me feel like my eyes are dragging through molasses or maybe I'm actually stoned (oh shit, did I really read this book?), because it takes me FOREVER and I have to read every. single. word carefully or I'll lose track of everything.

And you don't want to miss a thing, including the many squid puns. Like squidnapping (obviously) and squid pro quo (he makes you wait for that one). Missed opportunities: a cult of Siddharthists, come on. And also the lead character's name is Billy. Billy... the Squid?

Oh fine. Go write your own puns.

Like this one:


...and it was.
Profile Image for Ian.
125 reviews490 followers
October 4, 2011
Chapter 1: Wow, this is kind of cool. Everybody says China Miéville is the shit. He owns the GR comment boards. He can kick ass in any genre, or no genre, or bend genres to fit his will. Not to mention his good looks, right? I mean, the dude is hawt with a capital H. Hubba-Fuckin-Hubba. At least, that's what I've been told; personally I think he looks like a rude, low-class French waiter who hasn't bathed and has been relegated to peeling potatoes in the back alley where he can't scare off the customers (although the customers wonder why their potatoes smell like cigarettes and BO). So I'm not prepared to just go with the flow, here. I made up my own mind about his looks and I'll make up my own mind about his writing, too, thank you very much. Still I come into this with some pretty damn high expectations given the love affair all my GR friends are having with this potato-peeler right now. And indeed Kraken starts off pretty cool. Original concept and original writing style, I think a very real writing style that sounds like me and my friends talking (only with various British accents and slang).

Chapter 2: Hmm. Interesting. Very cool. I like the SRC, especially Collingswood. I want to be Collingswood's lover. (I assume being Collingswood's lover goes something like this: I follow her around and shine her shoes, maybe wipe her ass, while I beg for her to simply look at me without something resembling utter contempt, and she barely tolerates my presence while occasionally spitting in my face, shoving dog shit in my mouth, and putting out her cigarette in my eyeball. But I'm okay with that.)

Chapters 3, 4, 5, et seq.: This book is full of very short chapters, and the chapter breaks come when you would expect a bad TV drama to break for commercials. I assume that's on purpose, to add to the levity or something, but it bugs me.

Chapters 6, 7, 8, et seq.: Still cool. I'm not sure I understand what the fuck is happening, but I like it!

Chapters 20-50: Umm who are those people and why do I care? Are they really necessary or are they just Miéville messing around for his own amusement?

Chapters 50-99: Like I said, really short chapters, and lots of them. But also just lots of words and odd characters and weird shit happening.

Chapters 100-199: Okay now who the fuck are those people? Is Miéville just fucking with me now?

Chapters 200-299: Well at least now we're getting somewhere, and it's mostly interesting, though there are still way too many characters and weird things about the universe to remember.

Chapters 300-399: Interesting and cool and whatnot but I'm just ready for it to end. The protagonists are hitting one dead end after another, following this thread to that thread and back again.

Chapters 400-499: Somebody just tell me how it's going to end. Please???

Chapter 500: Wow! The climax is underway and I'm surprised! It's almost cool enough to make the wait worth it. I like where this is going!

Chapter 501: Wait a second … will somebody please tell me what the fuck just happened? It looked like a great ending then this dude did this shit and talk about deus machina … and I don't even understand exactly what happened or how it worked.

Chapter 502: Okay, there's some room left in the book to explain how the hero did what he did to stop the bad guy from doing what he wanted to do. Miéville is going to explain it, isn't he? Isn't he?

Chapter 503: Nope, no explanation. I still don't get how or why that worked in the universe he set up, unless the hero is just supposed to be God hisownself.

Chapter 504: Well I don't totally understand but at least it's ending and everybody seems happy – hey, hold on … what's? … who's? … why?

Chapter 503: So that was the real ending? Huh? How does that make sense given this and that and some other things that happened earlier? I don't get it. Very disappointing.
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,883 reviews16.6k followers
October 18, 2019
Kraken by China Mieville is about as predictable and formulaic as a book about a squid sect amidst a London underground teaming with competing cults and all under the shadow of the end of the world can be.

Weird, weird book.

But then, Mieville is supposed to be among the vanguard of the weird fiction group. I liked this, though it at times devolved into a clumsy absurdism; but to its credit, it never got down to ridiculous Kafkaesque or Beckettesque absurdity, but more of the Monty Python variety absurdism. There were many scenes that made me laugh out loud and I think I have seen some reviewers describe this as a dark comedy. Kraken also hosted a colorful satire on theology and organized religion.

Absolutely a tribute to Lovecraft, this is a good book all by itself as well but maybe not the best as an introduction to his work. Newer readers might try Perdido Street Station first.

Holding it all together is Mieville’s excellent writing, his unique imagination and his uncanny ability to draw from a multitude of inspirations from a calliope of genres and cultural mediums.

Profile Image for Michael.
274 reviews785 followers
July 20, 2010
In the city of _______, the end of the world is quickly approaching, instigated when a/an _______ gets stolen. Genero, the undistinguished protagonist, all of a sudden discovers a new world when he's ________ by a ________ and then rescued by a ________. It then turns out he is a hero sort, a necessary element of the battle between a ______ and a/an ___________.

Jeff Vandermeer: Alright, Mieville, the name of a city.

China Mieville: This will be a London sometin'.

JV: Alright *writes it in* Now, we need a noun.

CM: Ah. . . squid?

JV: Sure. Why not. *Writes it in* Verb?

CM: Kidnap.

JV: Past tense?

CM: Kidnapped.

JV: *taps forehead with pen* You know, Mieville, I kind of like the idea of basing our next books off of Mad Libs, but I can't help but feeling like this particular storyline is just unavoidably plain. I mean, you could use this framework to generate The Dark Is Rising, or Un Lun Dun, or-


JV: Profession?

CM: Uh. . . gangster.

JV: *Writes it in* The Lord of The Rings, even. I mean, this looks kind of Tolkeinish in its framework-


(1 year later. . . )

JV: Hey, China, congratulations on Kraken!

CM: Did you like it, Jeffy?

JV: It was quite funny! Collingsworth was a terrific secondary character. And when you brought in that guy who figured out how to teleport, man, that was vintage. And so was the Tattoo.

CM: Cheers, Jeff!

JV: The idea of competing armageddons is a fun one. And you have the detectives over here, the friend over there, the protagonist here, and they all meet up at the end . . . it's a terrific way--

CM: Yeah, thanks--

JV: Of getting around a fair-to-middling plot.

CM: . . . . .

JV: And a dull, flat main character.

(Mieville turns, looking out of the review at the reviewer.)

CM: Where do you get off judging my book and giving it a star rating? Not to mention impersonating me, and claiming I said inane things.

Michael: *Leaps back from his computer, startled* Uhh. . .hi. I'm a big fan.

CM: Fuck you, a big fan! "Big fans" appreciate the elements that work in a book, they don't spend time nitpicking because it didn't reinvent the genre. You're docking me two bloody stars because it's a hero's journey?

M: . . . First off, I don't give five stars to anything that didn't stun me with its brilliance. So, that's kind of like an "extra credit" number of stars. So, really, I'm docking you ONE for the hero's journey thing.

CM: But you gave five stars to "The Monster at the End of This Book."

M: So I did. Did you read Keely's review of Kraken? Did you pick on him?

CM: He didn't call himself a big fan.

Michael: Touche.

Jeff Vandermeer: Do you still need me? Can I go home now?

M & CM: Shut up, Jeff!

M: It's just that I expect a lot from you. . . That's all. The Bas Lag books were technically speculative fiction, but they surpassed that, and I think qualified as literary fiction. Kraken is pulp fantasy, isn't it?

CM: You say "pulp" like it's a bad word. I wanted to have some fun with the genre of fantasy, and write a humorous book, and I did both.

M: Good job! Doing that gets you three stars from me.

CM: WTF! Not that I care about how many stars you give me on your social networking site. What have you written?

M: . . . .

CM: Exactly.

M: You don't have to shit on my self esteem just because I gave you three stars. We can still be friends.

CM: Feast on my dung. I'M CHINA MIEVILLE, BITCH. I REST MY CASE. *Returns to his blog.*

JV: *Shrugs* I don't know what to tell you.

M: Somebody's having a bad hair day. I mean, you can't fill your book with stock characters who never develop, follow a traditional pulp storyline, and expect to write something that moves your readers deeply. He HAD some good ideas in the book that made it a very entertaining read. But I can't give him extra credit for being China Mieville, right? You see what I mean?

JV: Last time you wrote a review with me in it, you had me murdered. Don't expect sympathy here.

M: Yeah? Well, my reviews are sometimes violent. It wasn't personal.

JV: *Shakes his head and goes back to Ambergris*

M: I guess there's a downside to being a meanspirited cynic who disses books all the time. I mean, really, books are my closest friends. Because real people are such assholes.

Harold Bloom: Maybe you're just using book reviews as a way to avoid working on your real writing project. Perhaps you're afraid this novel will turn out to be less edgy than you hope for, and that fear is making you find ways to avoid working on it. Perhaps your rough treatment of China Mieville is really the result of your own insecurities.

M: Goddamn you, Bloom. If this is going to become a review of ME, I'm fucking leaving.
Profile Image for Dan Schwent.
3,005 reviews10.6k followers
February 11, 2015
A preserved giant squid is stolen from London's Natural History museum and curator Billy Harrow is at the top of everyone's list for answers. But who stole the Kraken and why? Was it the Londonmancers? Or minions of the Tattoo? Or the Church of the God Kraken? Or someone else all together? That's what Billy Harrow and Dane Parnell, a renegade from the Church, aim to find out. But can they recover the Kraken before it's used to trigger Armageddon?

China Mieville appears to have the Midas touch at times. In Kraken, he takes the conspiracy thriller and infuses it with so much new weirdness that green goo is oozing from between the pages. Where do I start? Do I talk about the Londonmancers, shamanic magicians who dwell in and shape London's streets? Or Wati, the sentient statue-thing that's unionizing London's familiars? Or the gunfarmers? Or the chaos nazis? Mieville throws so much at you in this one that it's hard to pick out one outlandish concept as the favorite.

I see people comparing this to Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere or American Gods, the works of Tim Powers, or even Mieville's own Un Lun Dun, but the book that it reminds me the most of is The Domino Men by Jonathan Barnes. There are conspiracies galore, gods created by belief, and the psychotic duo of Goss and Subby, who remind me both of Croupe and Vandemaar of Neverwhere fame and of The Domino Men.

The characters are an interesting bunch. Billy Harrow's in the Arthur Dent mode of protagonists. Parnell drives the story forward, as do the impressive array of interesting Londoners. In fact, Billy's probably the least interesting character within the book. But really, when one of the characters is a talking tattoo, he's got competition.

Easter eggs about within Kraken's piscine pages. There are multiple Star Trek references, including a magic-powered phaser and a Tribble, a Lolcats reference, Dr. Who, Michael Moorcock, the list goes on and on. And Mieville both mentions the criminally unknown Hugh Cook (of the delightful The Walrus and the Warwolf) in the forward and includes one of his poems, The Kraken Wakes, within the pages.

Any complaints? Only that there was a little too much going on at times. Kraken was a good read but it was never a "drop everything and neglect your personal hygene" kind of gripping. I found myself procrastinating a few times rather than go back to it. Once the story passes the 33% mark, it really takes off.

If squid based conspiracies are your bag, this book is for you. Otherwise, this book should appeal to Mieville fans, conspiracy fans, and fans of Neil Gaiman and Jonathan Barnes. Now get reading before I send the gunfarmers after you!

Later: In the interest of being much more crotchety than I was in 2011, I'm downgrading this to a 3. While brimming with ideas, it is by far a lesser Mieville.
Profile Image for carol..
1,576 reviews8,239 followers
March 17, 2015

Four and a half squids

“Enter that room and you breached a Schwarzschild radius of something not canny, and that cephalopod corpse was the singularity.“

I rather get why Miéville’s normally fantastic fanish fans don’t like Kraken much. I will note that I’ve had intermediate success with Miéville, finding a couple of his works quite memorable and some quite putdownable. Kraken is one I enjoyed muchly, primarily due to its absurdity, the absence of didacticism, and its clever-clever use of language. Speaking of, however, I would have like a bit more on the language front, specifically the description sort of language, words that might have given more insight into what was happening. As it was, I felt rather like Arthur Dent after meeting Ford Prefect.

“Sometimes you can’t get bogged down in the how,” Baron said. “Sometimes things happen that shouldn’t, and you can’t let that detain you. But the why? we can make headway with.”

But I rather suspect idea satiation of the text was part of the point, and, indeed, Miéville says, “it was a bit of a kitchen sink” of ideas in Kraken. Again, not knocking it. The first book of Miéville’s that I truly respected and whatever else, because love isn’t the sort of word you use with that book, was Embassytown, which was a bit of a mind-bender of a science-fiction book. Science-fiction being what it is, it’s easier for me to take those realities with a grain of salt, or, in that case, with a rather large tub of popcorn to help all that salt go down, because, wow, was that book ever idea-dense. This is idea-dense too, but in a creative, silly, bizarre candy-shop sort of way, not so much a philosophical one.

“And yes, no, it couldn’t have, no disappeared, so many metres of abyss meat could not have gone… There were no giant tank- no squid-shaped holds cartoon-style in the wall. It could not have gone, but there is was, not.”

Kraken is, nominally at least, about Billy, a man who is a museum curator at the Darwin Centre. He’s leading a tour group when they discover the star attraction–a perfectly preserved specimen of a thirty-foot giant squid–has disappeared without a trace. Dane the security guard is also mysteriously absent. As the police go through their investigative routine, Billy makes a gruesome discovery in the storage rooms. A special division of police make Billy an offer, but before he can think twice, events have spiraled out of his control into weirdness. What follows is a journey across London, through a city with dissident gods and magic-workers, where “crime overlapped with faith” as Billy seeks to understand his role in world-changing events and recover the squid.

“What my colleague is getting at,” Baron said, “is we’re facing a wave of St.Johns. A bit of an epidemic of eschatologies.”

My most serious challenge was developing an emotional connection to the characters. None really seemed sympathetic, and while I’m mentioning it, Billy was more than a bit Arthur Dentish in the beginning, wandering around and saying, “what? what? I don’t understand” all the time when he really needed to get with the program. The police are little help; although they contribute to the attempts towards law-n-order, they are just as apt to handcuff those preventing the apocalypse as much as those starting one. Perhaps the one I felt most affection for was a millennia-old rebellious spirit, leading a strike of the city’s magical assistants and familiars against exploitation. The villains were truly horrific, and Miéville deserves kudos for imbuing them with scary life in such brief appearances.

“Goss and fucking Subby. Sliding shifty through Albion’s history, disappearing for ten, thirty, a hundred blessed years at a time, to return, evening all, wink wink, with a twinkle of a sociopathic eye, to unleash some charnel-degradation-for hire.

There was no specificity to Goss and Subby.”

On the other side, the language is something else, something that makes me enjoy it and yet makes my brain work a bit too, because not only does he flat out improve my vocabulary, he takes a rather deconstructionist approach to structure at times. Often it takes me a minute to work out meaning. I think. Or at least glean on to partial intention. I most definitely feel like is one Miéville that you can re-read for more meaning, if only you can stand the story. I don’t mean that in a snarky way, despite how it sounds. I’m reflection on my own experience with his works, how some were like a full five course dinner of things I liked but were arranged in unusual ways, but some of his works were like five course dinners of things I mostly didn’t like, except for maybe the appetizer and dessert. Not to take away from the creativeness of it as much as the saturation of the effort.

You know what else is enjoyable about his stories? Utterly unpredictable. There will be no tropes here, or, if they are, they shall be used ironically and with abrupt changes in meaning to turn reader assumptions sideways. There’s so much that is fun, good, and oh yes! here: the Sea, the motif of the ink, the angels, the museum, the ramifications of a disappearing skill, the smallest ode to Star Trek, and the squiddity of it all. There is satisfying ending, even if it isn’t precisely the one expected. While I originally rated this slightly lower, it grew on me the more I thought about it, and the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to read it again. This might be one worth adding to the library for the sheer inventiveness, the languageness of it. Yes, I think I will.

“We’ve been arguing about books,” said Marge.
“Best sort of argument,” said Billy. “What was the substance?”…
“Virginia Woolf versus Edward Lear…”
“I went for Lear,” said Leon.”Partly out of fidelity to the letter L. Partly because given the choice between nonsense and boojy wittering you blatantly have to choose nonsense.”
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,219 reviews9,927 followers
November 24, 2012
Kraken gave me a severe case of goodreaditus, an unpleasant condition whereby as you are reading a book you are constantly thinking not about the book itself but how you are going to review it. For example I thought maybe I could borrow the voice of Cher Horowitz from Clueless

Here's the four-one-one on Billy Harrow. He's like a squid janitor, he's single, he's 24 or something, quite old, and he earns minor duckets for a thankless job. What that man needs is a good healthy boinkfest. Unfortunately, there's was a major babe drought in his life. Fortunately, when his gross giant squid gets stolen, you know, like by magic, along comes PC Collingswood and she's a total betty.

or maybe I could rewrite an old Monty Python sketch and put China Mieville on trial for extreme silliness. But no - Kraken isn't bad, it's just that I don't wanna be whimsical right now. So, in the time-honoured words of break-up speeches the world over

China, it's not you, it's me.

Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,107 followers
October 21, 2015
I had my ups and downs with this title, but in the end it's mostly all ups. The language was the biggest thorn, though in my other frames of mind, I also really enjoyed it at the same time.

What this book is not, is a quick and light read meant to delight and float through your mind like a cloud of ink.

It deserves to be savoured and gloated over, perhaps even stopping a bit to roll the cadences of copspeak off your tongue to feel its beat. I had to do it, too, before I realized that it sounded just fine. It's the reading of it that seemed jarring, almost as if it was a mirror to the jarring concepts that butted heads all throughout the maze of the story.

I was reminded, very pleasantly, of Perdido Street Station, which I also had an almost identical problem with. The worldbuilding on both of these are so damn rich and weird and well thought-out. The feel of the societies is ripe and bursting with flavor. Of course, Perdido was fantasy stationed in an alien landscape that just happened to be modern-human flavored, while this one just happened to be dark-fantasy mythospunk plopped right into the heart of modern London. The two aren't all that different. English=Alien. I watch Doctor Who. I know what I'm talking about.

Seriously, both novels weave a complex tapestry of groups and individuals with brightly colored lives that I could never forget, carrying burdens and gifts that made up for a hell of a lot of plot stretching and twists that made perfect sense in the end. The problem is in the getting there.

I had to be patient. Repeatedly.

I had to tell myself to have faith in the Kraken, but what I really wanted was to pick up the bottle.

I jest... or do I?

We got a major turf war of gods and their believers ravaging London. The prophets all agreed that the universe would end in fire, and end very soon. We've got a bumbling test-tube nerd who preserves specimens turning out to be the big hero, and we've got a security guard sacrificing his live to ink.

Was I pretty much amazed by the inclusion of so many fascinating characters? Oh hell yes. I'll never look at my fountain pen the same again, and I'm still thinking of the stitches in the mouth of a certain tattoo. And who needs lsd if you've got a dram of mollusk ink? And these are just a few of the many interesting tidbits that show up throughout the novel. It's littered with orphaned ideas and pretty turns. I mean, really, Buddhist-Jesus monks pulling a West Side Story? Talking Kirks, statues, and the patron of all fair-wage picketers, *Oh Wadi, Wadi,*.

And cold fire. What a fantastic SF twist THAT one turned out to be.

Truly, it was a satisfying wrap up. So many threads came back together to pack one hell of a punch, just like Perdido Street Station.

If I ever read this a second time, I'm going to do it slowly, savoring each turn and hint and phrase very carefully. I'm certain I'll get a lot more out of it. In the meantime, though, I can't honestly give it a full five stars. It was slow to develop, and some of Billy's blindness was a bit annoying, but it was all a matter of falling down the rabbit hole, anyway, so I decided to take the ride with him. Marge, on the other hand, was a breath of sanity throughout the text that proved to be the best steadying factor for me. Dane was a solid and thorough plot-mover, and he grew on me, too. Collinsworth? Oh, well, she's unique. :)

I did really enjoy this novel. It wasn't so much a Lovecraftian tribute as it was a Mythos tribute. Practically everything that the mythos built was pretty original. We got pieces of chaos nazis, a bit of Read Or Die, but everything else was pure extrapolation and imagination, as far as I could tell. I liked the Londonomancers and the Krakenites. Honestly, the Mythospunk was probably the very best part of the novel.

Not perfect, but there's so much to enjoy that I was very willing to see it through and I'm very glad I did.

Profile Image for Manny.
Author 30 books14k followers
January 8, 2012
"Now look," said Billy, in an uncertain approximation of his reasonable voice. "What's all this about? Can't someone tell me?"

"Oh, for fuck's sake," replied Collingwood in disgust. "Someone's been trying to tell you for most of your sodding life. You just won't listen, will you? But if you want something more explicit, there's always Goodreads."

She opened a grubby-looking Apple Powerbook with a Hello Kitty sticker on the lid and began typing.

"What's Goodreads got to do with it?" whispered Billy, but Collingwood waved her hand dismissively.

"Just one fucking minute. Almost there. Okay."

She turned the laptop to face him. There was a review with an embedded video JPEG. A shaven-headed man with a strong London accent was talking. He looked vaguely familiar, but Billy couldn't quite place him.

"This," said Collingwood with evident satisfaction, "is a review of Kraken by China Miéville. Now pay attention for once."

"We have tried various ways to reach you," the man was saying. "We hoped you would notice the works of E. Nesbit, H.P. Lovecraft, Philip K. Dick and J.K. Rowling. To name but a few."

"How about Stephenie Meyer?" asked Billy. The man gave him a dirty look.

"Meyer was a mistake," he snapped. Billy turned open-mouthed towards Collingwood, who paused the video and shrugged. "I know an algorithmomancer. Don't let the ad libs distract you." She pressed Play again.

"We particularly hoped," the man continued, "that you would read James Blish. Do you ever wonder why people keep recommending you Black Easter and They Shall Have Stars?"

Billy's last girlfriend had in fact made repeated attempts to get him to read both books, but without success. He stared at the screen.

"Now," the man concluded, "Kraken should drive the point home. If not, I give up."

He bowed and walked off.

"But what is the point?" asked Billy helplessly. "I still don't get it." Collingwood did the ostentatious eye-rolling thing.

"The world is not as it seems, you twat," she sighed. "Something bad is about to happen. But maybe you can do something about it."
Profile Image for Heidi The Reader.
1,389 reviews1,470 followers
January 28, 2018
Kraken is a complex urban fantasy about a missing squid, an astonishing large cast of characters and the end of the world - in no particular order.

China Miéville is an incredibly imaginative author. In this story, he has created a half dozen separate religions with their own gods and customs. (Hundreds more are hinted at.) Not content with that, he also created magic of all kinds, a strike by familiars, protective London-based angels and a supernatural police force.

And that's just the tip of the storytelling iceberg.

I would put forth the argument that he is one of the most inventive authors I've ever read.

That being said, I wanted more story and less world building.

Miéville has a cadence to his storytelling. Just when I thought the next important point in the plot would be revealed, he'd unveil a new character. It started to become annoying rather than astonishing.

The pace of Kraken is slow, so slow. But, for readers who enjoy a complex setup and completely unexpected reveal, this may be the read for you.

Personally, I like my stories to move at a faster clip.

There's also a good bit of coarse language in Kraken. I'm not the most sensitive person in the world, but it did grate my ears at times. Consider yourself warned.

My absolute favorite character, out of the legions to choose from, is Wati. It's not just for his unique premise either, which is incredibly inventive. (Another tip of the hat to Miéville.)

Wati has so much heart. He fearlessly goes where others can't or won't, putting himself in danger for his friends.

And Miéville certainly takes the time to build his characters. That is his absolute strength - world and character building.

Recommended for readers who enjoy complexity and stunningly fantastical worlds, and who have the patience to thoroughly savor all of it.
Profile Image for Overhaul.
321 reviews706 followers
May 22, 2023
En lo más remoto del ala de investigación del museo de Historia Natural hay un preciado espécimen, algo único e insólito: un calamar gigante que se conserva en perfecto estado.

¿Qué consecuencias acarreará la repentina e inverosímil desaparición del animal?

Para el conservador del museo, Billy Harrow, será el primer paso de un salto sin red hacia un Londres de cultos enfrentados, magia surrealista, apóstatas y asesinos. La criatura que ha estado custodiando podría ser algo más que una rareza biológica: hay quien asegura que se trata de un dios.

Un dios que algunos esperan que acabe con el mundo..

Abandono, 56%. Que puñetero mareo de libro.

La historia sonaba genial. Tenemos de menú un calamar gigante, un cuidador del museo como protagonista, Londres, magia, todo tipo de cultos que parece una guía telefónica, algo de robos y asesinatos, el fin del mundo y rarezas en una trama que no tuvo ningún puto sentido para mi.

Por encima de todo en este libro destaca un estilo de lo más denso y difícil de seguir. Ni los diálogos. Incapaz, no les vi el jodido sentido.

Incapaz de seguir su estilo y eso es un adieu.

Me terminaron por saturar los diálogos, la trama, pasando por el puñetero elenco eterno de personajes e infinitos cultos en un deux ex machina.

Capítulos muy cortos, y los saltos de capítulo se producen justamente cuando uno espera en una serie o película que se vaya a los anuncios, en lo mejor. Es un recurso constante que es lo que me mosquea.

Palabras y más palabras, demasiadas palabras ahí comprimidas con unos personajes extraños que me importaban de 0 a una mierda y cosas raras que suceden que hasta me pierdo por el camino.

Una lectura densa, lenta muy lenta y pesada. Sobre cultos y apocalipsis que suena todo muy guay, pero joder.. Mi cerebro no puede más con la ejecución de este libro.

Todo ello me llamaba mucho, tiene un estilo en honor al maestro Lovecraft, pero el estilo y agilidad de su autor, China Miéville, por mucho que tenga, y no lo discuto, una imaginación de la ostia, no es compatible conmigo.

Tan expositivo, una trama lisiada y rara con altibajos a rebosar de personajes y cultos con calificativos dobles y triples. Tostón.

La ejecución y el estilo narrativo de China no conecta conmigo, tiene muchísima imaginación pero su manera de escribir para mi como lector, deja muchísimo que desear.

Kraken ha sido horrible. Mieville es inventivo, a veces sorprendentemente pero su estilo en la trama y los diálogos lo vuelven cansino, denso y la trama se volvió aburrida en un batiburrillo de personajes y sectas que se pasa de rosca.

Es como una película o serie de "suspense" que dura demasiado. Dejé de preocuparme por la trama y sus personajes.

No había suspense ni rapidez alguna a la hora de que pasen cosas y no 100 páginas después, que ya ni me interesa. Por no hablar de que los personajes salen como si fueran dios de cualquier situación. No se le da nada bien el humor o yo no se lo encontré.

Comienzo muy prometedor pero luego pasa a convertirse en un camino que simplemente no pude entender ni seguir.

No podía quedarme con todo y me aburría como una nutria en un cine.

Una trama difícil de precisar y complicada. Su ejecución no ha conectado ni ha sido para mi en lo más mínimo.. 🎩
Profile Image for J.G. Keely.
546 reviews10.2k followers
June 20, 2010
Kraken marks a digression for Mieville from his familiar madcap style. Where before we had come to expect moody, slow-burn plots interrupted by sudden action, and just as suddenly back to introspection, we now get a story that is dramatic, unbroken, and streamlined in punchy chapters and theatrical quick-cuts.

His vibrant, poetical asides into mad science and techno-thaumaturgy have been toned down: no longer a virulent undercurrent, twisting and shaping his world, they have become curiosities and explanations. He has been careful to ensure that he never loses his audience through obscure complexity.

In Kraken, most of the asides outline a freewheeling Kantian magic system built on belief and symbology, the other asides are fodder for his plot twists, which are somewhat obvious, if only because he has avoided the swirling eddies of uncertainty that would otherwise hide their trail.

Like his magic, his world is overtly symbolic, and as his magic is an allegory for the act of writing. We could describe his symbols as structuralist, because their meanings are open to interpretation. Unlike esoteric and hermeneutic magics, which are based upon knowledge, history, and the discovery of secrets, Mieville's system is built around free creation of meanings.

Like Grant Morrison's 'Chaos Magic', his rituals and spells could be anything you make of them. Morrison took this to an extreme in his own London-based Contemporary Fantasy, 'The Invisibles', flooding his plot and characters with so many meanings, traditions, and details that he often loses the thread of his story completely. Contrarily, Mieville never loses the thrust of his story, because his magic is not weighted down with the compulsive details of history.

And yet it has always been those details that subgenre-defining authors drew on to create their vision of a magical London, from Gaiman to Milligan to Moore. Mieville uses historical elements, but never interweaves them through the convolutions of history--the externalized structure of his magic doesn't require it. He does use historical details, but since power comes from reputation, not lore, he need not delve too deeply.

Yet in many ways, his is the same system Gaiman often uses, in American Gods, for example. But for Gaiman, the power of a symbol is not merely the sum of its reputation--it also retains the accrued power of its history and influence. There is an interwoven foundation of esoterica in his magic, even when he bases the power of his magic on modern concepts, as in Neverwhere.

Kraken often evokes Neverwhere, whether by converging influences or homage. The violent, intimidating villain duos who chase the protagonists throughout both books share styles, descriptions, roles, and ironically erudite soliloquies.

The plot-driving behind-the-scenes villains are both incomprehensibly powerful, mysterious, unknown figures, though in Gaiman you do get a motive. Mieville's has no lines, a technique which tends to work better in cthonic horror. He's chiefly a plot-mover, and there is an impressive amount of plot-moving to be done to keep a five-hundred page book steaming along at a clip.

Mieville keeps his plot aloft, and there's never a dull moment, though there are a number of artificially dramatic moments, his short chapters often ending in sudden twists and evoking the cliffhangers of a radio melodrama "Will Abigail survive? Tune in next week!" (cue organ)

This pacing leaves little room for introspection, psychological progression, or denouement, but Mieville's quirky melodrama is no place for psychological sketches, he's writing characters, not people. Like his magic, his characters are symbolic, and chiefly important for their surface qualities. In this book, first impressions will never let you down, so don't look for subtle internal conflicts or psychological shifts.

The characters are vibrant, interesting, and flawed, but not human, they are too perfectly constructed and unchanging. Like figures from Greek drama, we do not get men who are cowards or men who are intelligent, we get characters whose intelligence or cowardice continually define them and establish their roles in the story.

Such characters can grow tedious: their conversations progressing in the same ways, their particular strengths, weaknesses, and insights reappearing over and over. One example is the fish-out-of-water protagonist who spends the first hundred pages belaboring his confusion at the incomprehensible world he has been thrust into. His undifferentiated complaints soon form a somewhat irritating leitmotif. Some character progression and transition wouldn't have run amiss, or, barring that, at least using that reminiscent dialogue to explore new, subtle angles in the world Mieville was building for us.

More than his other books, Kraken shows the pulp roots of New Weird, a genre he has helped to define. The quick, action-packed plot, the melodrama, the cliffhangers, and the idealized characters are all familiar to any pulp fans. The length, however, is not, and Mieville shows the difficulty of trying to stretch his comparatively straightforward story and characters to the length established by introspective novels.

As Hitchcock pointed out, you have to repeatedly build and break a story, or it begins to bloat and sag. With a bit more of the subtlety, introspection, and wild, sensory-overload fervor I've come to expect from him, Mieville might have put his own idiomatic stamp on the Contemporary Fantasy, instead of giving us a fun and light (if unusual and well-written) pulp adventure.

His entrance to the subgenre intives comparison to the giants who have come to inhabit it in its recent boom years. He's written a mature Harry Potter, an intellectual's Dresden Files, a devilishly eccentric Anita Blake. His is a strong, intelligent, and literate vision of the growing and popular subgenre of modern-day magic. Yet we are still waiting for a novelist who can use the strengths of their medium to revolutionize the original vision of the comic book authors who have defined this subgenre for thirty years.

I would like to thank Goodreads and Del Ray for sending me an uncorrected proof of Kraken through the Goodreads First Reads program.

My List of Suggested Fantasy Books
Profile Image for David Katzman.
Author 3 books475 followers
December 30, 2013
The most fun you can have with a giant squid this side of Japanese octopus porn. I take that back. It’s the most fun no matter which side of octopus porn you’re on.

This is the first China Miéville work I’ve read so I wasn’t tainted by any of his previous books. I went in with few expectations. And how did I feel coming out? The dude rocks.

Here's the the milieu: Magic exists in modern day London, and, hidden behind mystical distractions, a secret society of competing religious cults, for-hire magicians, and mafia mages vie for power. The inciting event of the story is the disappearance of a giant squid from a local museum, which sets off a series of events that might just lead to the end of the world. Who stole it? Why? And how can this apocalyptic destiny be averted? Such is the drama and fun found in Kraken.

The main character, Billy Harrow, is a hapless young Londoner who works at the museum where the squid was preserved as a tourist attraction. After the squid disappears, he becomes a “person of interest” to the police, to various cults, including the Kraken-worshipping cult, and to two psychotic killers hired by a gang leader who seeks the magic potential of the squid. The main character reminded me a bit of Richard Mayhew from Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, but the two magic-amped assassins chasing Billy, known only as Goss and Subby, reminded me even more of the two unstoppable killers chasing after Richard Mayhew, the Messrs Croup and Vandemar. They are merciless, enjoy killing, and seem too powerful to kill. Like Mayhew, Billy is caught up in a magical underworld he had no idea existed and has to figure out how to survive and avert tragedy. But, really, the similarity ends there. Billy is confused like Richard, but he gains his own magical powers that help him along the way. And while Richard is trying to save a friend, Billy is trying to save the world.

Perhaps you won’t be surprised to learn that a book that features an undersea leviathan and “the sea” as a character also includes an abundance of red herrings. (Pun intended?) That’s right, Miéville keeps you guessing as to the perpetrator of the plot to destroy the world until the very end. Although I did call it early, I wasn’t positive.

Despite being a fantasy thriller, Miéville manages to integrate some hard-hitting critiques of religion along with a philosophical critique of the teleportation thought experiment*. In other words, this is a nerd-powered thriller. Well, nerdy in content, Miéville in person looks more like a badass punker weightlifter.

Regarding that critique of religion (this is only for those who’ve read the book or never intend to)

The book has perhaps two weaknesses. The main character, Billy is one. He was a bit of a cipher. Had a rather vague personality. The other weakness is a muddle toward the middle. The plot gets somewhat expository in order to weave a web of tangled conspiracies … too much insider politics for my taste among the cults, which tended to bog down the story. Nonetheless, it absolutely deserves five stars because I couldn’t put it down. Miéville keeps you wanting to find out what happens next, and the interweaving cults are cool as hell. Well played, well played.

*I debunked the teleportation thought experiment in my review of I Am a Strange Loop and the experiment itself was also brought up (in a strange loop!) in a debate I recently had with Manny Rayner which starts here and ends here.
Profile Image for Agnieszka.
258 reviews932 followers
May 1, 2017

Hey, come with me, do not ask and do not be surprised at anything. Even if something seems to you completely unbelievable - take it on the chin. Meet the city which you will not find in the coloured folders, places you will not find in any guidebook. Prepare yourself for delirious trip, apocalypse, armageddon or whatsoever. Just follow me.

It is my first Miéville and I really didn't know what to expect. Story starts interestingly when we are about to visit Natural History Museum. It’s really fabulous place, from the outside we can admire its impressive, castle- or cathedral- like architecture to finally enter the huge hall, surrounded by arcaded galleries, pillars, stairs. With the gigantic skeleton of dinosaur in the front of you. When I’m visiting this place and see stuffed or petrified creature I always think : poor bugger, what did you do that they have done it to you ?

But let’s leave aside my personal digression and come to the point. So, we are in The Darwin Centre with our guide, young curator Billy to find out that, horror of horrors !, main attraction, pride and joy of the museum, giant squid, tenderly named Archie just gone. Dissolved into the thin air. Just so .

Later is even more intriguing. Hideous but at the same time peculiar crimes, special police squads, squirrels ( don’t ask ), Tattoo Man, underground city, prophets, wizards, gods, worshippers of all kinds of religion and cults. Can you imagine yourself to worship a squid ? Well, as classic said once there are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy .

China Miéville is for sure talented writer endowed with unbridled imagination. Kraken then is a mixture of thriller, horror, urban fantasy. But from some moment novel seems to be too thick, not to say just overfilled. Too much of everything. We are overwhelmed with events and actions, we seem to be lost in the jumble of ideas and characters. And, especially in the second part of the book , it's hard to resist the impression that the author himself was a bit lost and had not coherent vision of created world too . And though plot goes on, however, it loses its clarity. Just one wanted to say oh mighty Kraken, what the hell is going on ?

It's really a very decent reading though left me a bit unsatisfied and at the same time satiated. Does it make any sense ?
Profile Image for seak.
434 reviews473 followers
June 20, 2012
First off, a book with the title Kraken is required to have a sinking ship attacked by a Kraken or at least have the line "release the Kraken" make sense. Sorry, it's in the rules...This did not have any.

If that's what you're looking for, look elsewhere, although if you know anything about Mieville (I'm told), you should know that you never really get what you expect from his novels.

Kraken was my first crack (or should I say krak) at China Mieville outside of the 100 or so pages I read of Perdido Street Station, which I do plan to someday finish. This is one of those books that leaves an indelible impression on you for a very long time after. This is also why I changed my rating a few days later (in the upward direction) as I'll explain in a bit.

Throughout the book, I was thinking I'd give Kraken at most a 2 out of 5. I have to applaud the imagination the Mieville has. It's impressively insane. He not only has the craziest characters/entities/whatchamacallits, but he describes them in a way that makes it completely believable in the world he's created. It's quite amazing and I'd say Mieville's worth a read for the sole opportunity to have your mind blown with an extremely unique take on a fantasy novel.

The problem, and the reason for the initial rating, was that I felt so bogged down in the imagination, in the vivid descriptions and interesting characters, that I didn't feel like there was really any progression to the story; any reason to continue besides to find out about more cool creatures. This was much the same reason I stopped reading Perdido Street Station part-way through, although to a much larger degree. Like I said, I will get back to it as I now know it will all be worth it in the end.

The tale's protagonist, Billy Harrow, is a curator at Natural History Museum in London and its biggest draw, and on which Billy has personally worked, is the Giant Squid - Architeuthis dux. The only problem is that it's suddenly disappeared...out of nowhere...with no trace whatsoever.

Thereafter, Billy finds himself in a London that is not the same London he knew before he found the Kraken was gone. There are cults and gangs, creatures and spirits, Billy never would have believed existed including the notorious gang leader Tattoo, who is actually a tattoo of a face on the back of an unwanting punk, and Wati (my favorite), the Egyptian spirit who can only inhabit figurines and statues that are at least mostly human shaped.

The problem for Billy is that all these groups in this underground London think Billy is behind it all and he doesn't know a thing.

Like I said earlier, Kraken is amazingly imaginative and it stays with you long after you read this book, as I'm told are many, if not all, of China Mieville's work. The more I get away from reading this book, the more I find myself still thinking about it. It really was an enjoyable book that I'd definitely recommend.

Because this is my first Mieville book, I'm not the expert, but I've read this is the most linear and accessible of all his work.

Why Should You Read Kraken?

Well, don't read it if all you wanted were pirates and ships and sword-fights, etc. You won't get any of that. What you will get is a great book filled with characters and creatures that you can't believe how real you think they now are. :) (like henchmen that have actual hands, fingers and everything, for heads)

4 out of 5 Stars

EDIT: I read this book in connection with my judging responsibilities for the Independent Literary Award. Because of this, Mr. Mieville was nice enough to agree to an interview with all the panelist judges.

Let me just say, this interview is worth checking out if you're a Mieville fan. I'd like to say it was our ingenious questions, but he would be entertaining to read if he talked about his favorite hobby of watching paint dry.

Here's the interview:
Profile Image for Mat.
Author 7 books16 followers
April 21, 2014
There's something agonisingly frustrating about throwing a China Miéville novel across the room.

The problem, I think, is in convincing myself that it actually deserves to be thrown. Because a Miéville novel should be brilliant. Both Kraken and the other Miéville I've read, The City & The City, are built on fascinating conceits. Like City's politically schizoid metropolis, the hidden London into which a museum curator is drawn after theft of a giant squid promises a wild, intelligently drawn and absorbing adventure.

But China's writing just can't rise to the conceit. Perhaps his editor's to blame for allowing such clunky, over-written and first-drafty prose to infest the published manuscript. How could, for example, a sentence as excruciatingly confused as "We were milking leeway that would eradicate itself" make it into The City & The City? What proofreader would fail to spot the moment early in Kraken when the protagonist asks someone to clarify the meaning of a list of names he doesn't actually receive till two pages later?

I dragged myself over annoyances like these in City, because City is shorter than Kraken and the over-writing is better controlled. But Kraken is so turgid, so expository, so crippled with double and triple qualifiers (Miéville will not furnish a sentence with one extended purple metaphor when three can be shoe-horned in with commas) that there it goes, arcing across my room like a startled rook, like paint in Pollock's studio, like a pop-culture reference that'll be dated in eighteen months.

There are bad writers of fantastic literature. They tend to be bad writers of bad ideas. Rarer, though, is a writer like Miéville: a bad writer of excellent ideas. That's what's got me through one and a half Miéville novels, but now I've hit the wall and so, I'm afraid me old China, has Kraken.
Profile Image for Apatt.
507 reviews806 followers
April 1, 2016
Let’s make one thing clear: China Miéville is way too ripped for his chosen profession. Being the new demigod of speculative/weird English fiction, he should by rights be some kind of hunch-backed, bespectacled, bowl-haircut paradigm of nerd. Instead he’s an Adonis, a Hercules, a shaven-headed Atlas – standing out among his many accolades is the coveted “best guns in literature” award; a title he seems unlikely to yield anytime soon.

Tomcat, Could They Beat-Up China Miéville? Blog

Well, that is certainly not germane to Kraken but China Miéville remains my favorite literary anomaly. He is without a doubt one of the most gifted authors working today, it is very fortunate for genre fans like myself that he has a predilection for the fantastical. I would not hesitate to recommend him to anybody who likes to read sf/f/h books. However, I would not recommend that they start with Kraken. This is not to say that it is bad, I doubt he can write a POS book, it is just that it is far from being his best novel and it is less accessible in spite of the deceptively straightforward synopsis (which you can read elsewhere, thanks).

The weirdness starts pretty much from page one and does not relent much from that point. The prose, the characters, and the dialogs are generally weirder than Crispin Glover under the influence of magic mushrooms. That said, existing fans of Miéville should not skip this book as it is a hoot, by now you should have built up a tolerance for his brand of weirdness. Once the reader is settled into the very odd scenario of this novel there are many delightful things to discover. My favorite is Extreme Origami which is the art of folding any damn thing you want, including people. After reading a few dark themed novels by him this book seems like China Miéville letting his hair down (ha! sorry China!). There is a lot of eccentric humor and pop cultural references in this book, Star Trek especially, including a talking Kirk doll, a tribble, and working phaser (occasionally set on stun). This is a London where magic mixes nicely with technology (including a combination of necromantics and unix).

Miéville is always a dab hand at creating interesting characters though it must be said that I found the supporting characters much more interesting than the protagonist (hey, it works for J.K. Rowling). My favorite is the badass policewoman named Collingswood who reassures a woman who reported some missing persons by saying “Rest assured we're going to leave no stone unturned in our search for wossname and thingy.”

So, a total hoot for established fans of China Miéville, our hero does not normally write such light-hearted materials but when he does it does it in style. If you are completely new to Miéville I highly recommend picking up The City & the City, Perdido Street Station or The Scar, both are absolutely brilliant and easier to get into. If you start with Kraken you may find yourself on a slippery slope (depends on how well you adapt to weird shenanigans).

His latest book (as of today) Embassytown is more highly acclaimed than Kraken, and I am looking forward to reading it soon.
Profile Image for Lena.
200 reviews93 followers
December 7, 2021
It was unusual, a bit crazy, nut not my cup of tea, therefore 2 starts only. Although it doesn't mean that the book is bad - it's just very specific. Author created a fascinated urban legend with a bunch of hilarious parodies on cults and apocalypses. So I can understand why his novels are so popular, but it's not for me.
Profile Image for Cynnamon.
576 reviews102 followers
October 22, 2019
DNF at 25 %

I started with high expectations and I really wanted to like this book.

The story sounded really good: A giant squid, a museum’s curator protagonist, London, magic, all kinds of cults, theft and murder, the end of the world and lots of weirdness.

Unfortunately the execution just did not speak to me.

I don’t think it’s a bad book, but it is definitely not my taste.
Profile Image for Niki.
776 reviews123 followers
December 4, 2017
I really, really liked this book.

This is the first China Miéville book I've ever read, and it was a really great introduction to China's world. He clearly knows exactly what he's doing, I don't think that even one sentence was out of place. The writing style fits the theme of the book to a T: urban magic, modern takes on historical practices, like the haruspex.

Speaking of these modern takes, I thought "Kraken" was VERY original. Almost everything in the book was something I wouldn't have imagined in my wildest dreams, from the religions that somehow all made sense, to the Egyptian familiar that has no body and can only go from one statue to the other to communicate, to the very literal Knucklehead thugs. I have realized that I really, really like the urban magic genre (probably because I can relate to it easier than, let's say, forest magic- I have no contact with forests), so this book was basically perfect for me.

The characters were also interesting. As almost always, our protagonist, Billy, was just a little bland, probably so we could put ourselves in his shoes? It's fine though, he's still a good protagonist, and his booksmart skill make for a good duo with the ultra-tough Dane. My favourite was Collingswood, I liked her "Fuck everything" attitude, witchcraft and potty mouth, plus constant smoking (don't smoke though, kids)

The only complaint I have is that the book is a tad too long, it could have been wrapped up earlier than it did. But hey, who am I to tell China what to do? Like I said before, I'm sure he knew what he was doing.
Profile Image for Scott  Hitchcock.
779 reviews235 followers
February 4, 2018

Very original but the story wasn't able to keep my interest. I also hate when authors rely on pop culture nostalgia. This was my first Mieville book. I would take another shot.
Profile Image for Whitaker.
294 reviews511 followers
June 18, 2011
Many other writers have done urban fantasy, re-envisioning modern metropolises hiding a magical underbelly co-existing alongside the modern technological veneer: JK Rowling and the Harry Potter novels, Neil Gaiman and American Gods, Charles de Lint and his Newford novels. All of that is like Campari next to Miéville’s hard 100-year old whiskey. He ratchets up the weirdness, twists it and integrates it into modernity in a way that’s well… let’s just say that if Kraken were to get into a celebrity death match with American Gods, American Gods would wet its little diapers.

He has a strike of familiars against their magical masters; he has people so desperate for someone to take over their lives they literally become tools for a gang lord; teleportation is the dismantling of the body, killing it, and reassembling a new life with the same memories elsewhere—the teleporter had me squeeing in glee at the notion of his haunting by the hundreds of his former ghost selves; a member of the magic police assembles a posse of dematerialised police officers from fragments of ghosts and 70’s police shows… Miéville just throws idea after idea like this at you, leaving you gasping for breath.

But the best bit, the best bit is his reworking of the Christian mythos in the most subversive way I have ever seen. And it’s not just the fact of the apocalypse, that’s just the itty-bitty cherry on the cake. And he does this in a way that’s not obvious, and that’s not join-the-dots of the Christ narrative. Hell, maybe it’s all just in my head, but if it is that’s okay, cause I’m getting such a squee-high of a rush from the thought.

Okay, now we enter spoiler territory, and if you want to just enjoy the sheer mad rush of this book for itself, STOP READING NOW!! Go read the book, and come back to read this review and tell me if you think I'm wrong.

Just go with it, go with it and let it drag you down down down into the dark and the deep. You'll be glad you did.

What Others Thought

SF Reviews: There is both satire and parody here, the former dissecting both apocalyptic religious mania and the inability of conventional authority to protect us in any meaningful way from unknown threats in a post-post-terrorist age, and the latter gently ribbing SF/fantasy nerd culture, with Harry Potter, X-Files and especially Star Trek good-naturedly taking the piss. Here is a world where a realm of magic lurks just beyond a threshold, invisible to us muggles, where unionized familiars picket like British Rail, disembodied ancient spirits flit from statue to statue, and the Metropolitan Police have a special special branch to deal with paranormal threats. And at the center of it all, as in almost every Miéville story, is a city, the city, the phantasmagoric London of history and myth. Here it literally lives and breathes. London has its own sympathetic magicians, the Londonmancers, who can reshape its very substance. There's a scene where one of them cracks open the asphalt and reads the bloody entrails beneath the street. The portents are not good… I admit that when Miéville's not on his game, the sort of thing can get self-indulgent and tiresome, as it did for me in Iron Council and the novella "The Tain". In Kraken, Miéville's brought his A-game. As excessive and wrought as the plot seems to be, he actually always has it firmly in hand. Attentive readers should never find themselves flailing in confusion, even if, at 500 pages, the book flirts with overlength. Next to Un Lun Dun, this is the closest the New Weird has ever come to producing pure blockbuster popcorn entertainment.

The Independent: Miéville's landscape is a London not hidden beneath the streets, but wedged in alongside ours—where high-rise flats hide magic-for-hire and Limehouse garages are workshops for converting the unwilling into something rather horrible indeed. This is a magical realm formed—often literally—from the detritus of the modern metropolis. The author knows the value of the uncanny, and often his slights revolve around only the faintest of twists on the familiar; commuters in motorcycle helmets are transformed into portents of menace, while magical familiars are formed from masonry and scraps of discarded medical matter. As with the best fantastic fiction, after reading, the world around us is transformed… Simultaneously reverent and brimming with punky attitude, Kraken proves Miéville is ever forging new ground, even when walking the same grey pavements as his readers.
Profile Image for Carmen.
2,067 reviews1,906 followers
March 29, 2016
This book is crazy.

Now, either China Miéville writes your kind of crazy or he doesn't. If you read this book and think "This is crazy...but it kind of makes sense," then you're good to go. However, if you have to ditch it after 100 pages because all you can think is "WTF?", then this book is not for you.

What makes it difficult is that Miéville tends to plunge you into his crazy world and hopes you'll hold on long enough to start to enjoy the ride. He's not big on info-dumping or exposition. Reading one of his books is like being slammed into by a blowback from an explosion. My best advice is to just "roll with it" the first time you read it, kind of glossing over anything that you don't understand, and then re-reading it to really let everything fall back into place and coalesce in your mind.

Billy Harrow is a 30-year-old scientist who works at a museum. One day the giant squid specimen disappears. Who stole it? Why?

This book gets heavy into cults, religion, and evil. There's magic. There are gods. Like Stephen King, Miéville writes a dark world but includes hope, goodness and even a touch of humor to it. He's not depriving you of all hope.

This takes place and London and is heavy with British slang. Not only is it dripping with slang, but also with Miéville's special crazy language that he uses in his books. And a ton of difficult, reach-for-your-dictionary vocabulary. So it is not an easy, breezy read. This is a PROJECT. But it's a book worth reading, in my opinion, as long as hard-core, take no prisoners Science-Fiction/Fantasy appeals to you.

I liked CITY AND THE CITY better than KRAKEN, but they both deserve 5 stars, in my opinion.

P.S. I would just like to note that coincidentally the main character's name is Billy, and he does turn into a Billy Badass by the end of the novel. Which I found a wee bit of a stretch, seeing as he starts out as a mild-mannered scientist, but I went with it.
Profile Image for Lindsay.
1,275 reviews227 followers
October 20, 2015
Ok, so this book got a lot better in the last quarter. It's still a rambling self-indulgent mess of a novel that doesn't realize that it's supposed to have a plot except at the beginning and end.

The main character, Billy Harrow curates an exhibit in the Natural History Museum that includes an 8 metre long giant squid. It goes missing. Then things get weird. Then weirder still. Eventually things get weird enough for this to be a China Miéville book.

Billy gets involved with several groups of people/creatures of occult London including a branch of the police that are as brutal, sadistic and uncaring as the bully-boy caricatures of the police force are made out to be. There's pure evil occult forces, determinedly neutral ones and even a few on Billy's side, most of whom are very memorable. Occult London clearly has some pretty bizarre politics and they seem balanced on a knife edge. There's a lot of similarities here with Neverwhere, and logically, Un Lun Dun. I much preferred both of those though.

The central flaw here is that the plot makes no sense. I don't think it's supposed to. But at every stage I want to yell, "But, why?!" But I get the strong feeling that this is really just a handy framework to hang interesting ideas, fun situations and beautifully clever and very funny language.

Not a favorite by any means.
Profile Image for Liviu Szoke.
Author 30 books382 followers
April 21, 2017
În opinia mea, primul mare roman (și, poate, cel mai bun) scris de Mieville după Perdido Street Station (Stația Pierzaniei). Ambițios, vast, cult, inteligent, grețos pe alocuri, doldora de referințe din cele mai obscure și mai variate domenii. Culte ce venerează calamarul gigant, focul, apa, un Tatuaj vorbitor, londomanți, Naziști ai haosului, arme care trag gloanțe ce apoi eclozează și se transformă înapoi în arme, cititori în măruntaiele orașului, morți care nu sunt de fapt morți, o polițistă cu puteri paranormale, doi ucigași ce se strecoară prin negura timpului și seamănă groază în jur, origamiști ce împăturesc obiecte sau chiar oameni, teleportatori, un fazer din Star Trek (seria originală, cea cu William Shatner) și multe alte grozăvii, peste care plutește, din umbră, Krakenul. Și oceanul. O adevărată capodoperă a genului urban fantasy. Dar ce vorbesc eu, asta e mama tuturor poveștilor urban fantasy. Mai multe, pe FanSF:
Profile Image for Lightreads.
641 reviews534 followers
December 14, 2010
My comment on the first Mieville book I read was something like, “brilliant book! Shame it has no soul.” Second verse, etc.

A quick-moving book about a giant squid corpse that is going to end the world. No really. It’s got this absinth-intense whacko worldbuilding – all squid cults and fire that burns time and animal familiar labor strikes. It has the sort of sense of humor you would need to carry off “squid pro quo” jokes. And wonderful writing, of course. Every sentence in a Mieville book has flexion, strength. [Insert half an hour where I try and fail to locate a passage describing London as a benthic mass with the sky depthing above it like the sea. Blew my mind].

Yet, eh. There’s something of the comic book about Mieville’s black hole hero. You know, lots of things pour into him, nothing measurable comes out. The most alive person in this book is Marge (short for Marginalia, like you do) whose story is, um, marginal.

Thing is, when you come right down to it, there’s a giant dead squid at the heart of this book, preserved in weird, saline creepiness in a glass tank. And that’s all there is to it.
Profile Image for Gabrielle.
1,018 reviews1,184 followers
November 21, 2018
Oh, China Mieville. My language wizard who disdains cliched tropes, has more imagination than any other writer - living or dead, and who just loves taking me (and other readers) on the most unpredictable rides he can come up with. When I thought I couldn’t love you any more than I already did, you went ahead and wrote a book about a cult that worships giant squids. Marry me, China.

“Kraken” certainly winks in the general direction of Lovecraft’s oeuvre. A lot. But you’d be wrong to assume it’s a pastiche simply because tentacles and weird cultists are involved: this book is extremely funny (in a purely Mievillian way), something Lovecraft never managed - at least not deliberately ("I paid it in nuts, Billy. What would you think I'd pay a squirrel?"). Billy Harrow is essentially an Arthur Dent: a maddeningly normal man suddenly thrust into the weirdest world he could have imagined, trying to stay sane and alive as he unwillingly explores the bizarre underworld of this surreal London. It also the book where I felt Mieville to be his most shameless nerdy self, with references not only to the father of cosmic horror, but to other writers (both of genre and literary fiction), classic sci-fi shows and weird stuff he’s seen in museums.

The Natural History Museum of London’s prized exhibit is a perfectly preserved giant squid. The magnificent and strange animal unfortunately attracts more than tourists; a very fringe religious cult steals the pickled creature out of its tank, putting the curator Billy in a very uncomfortable situation; in his quest to get his most famous exhibit back, he’ll land in the middle of turf war between obscure gods and their cults, have to dodge hired killers with very peculiar methods, work with a rather unorthodox unit of the police force and negotiate with a talking tattoo and unionized familiars. Among other things. The plot twists and turns like the tentacles of a giant squid, so it's futile to attempt to summarize it, but what a wild and unusual ride!

His villains Goss and Subby are really quite something, reminiscent of Croup and Vandermar from Gaiman’s glorious “Neverwhere” (which I was reminded of a few times through this book, actually (, but even bloodier, if one can imagine such a thing. And of course, it's impossible not to love Collingswood, the bratty but talented youngest member of the cult squad, and Wati, the socialist-minded shabtis.

Like any Mieville novel, you need a good dose of patience and of mental energy to keep up with the intricately woven tale he spun, not to mention the London slang and multi-syllabic words he'll throw your way. But his prose is as ornate, rhythmic and erudite as ever, and its mesmerizing. It is also completely unique: so many wild and incredible ideas are crammed in there, and I can see how some readers thought it was a bit much, but I loved it! Perhaps the book is a bit long, but my usual complaint about Mieville's novels is that they don't last forever... Maybe not for the newbies, but if you have read this brilliant man’s work before and loved it, do not miss “Kraken”! 4 and a half stars.
Profile Image for RandomAnthony.
394 reviews110 followers
June 24, 2011
I am officially throwing in the towel, page 291. Sorry, Mr. Mieville. I know some women around her love you but I think maybe I chose the wrong book with which to start your catalog.

Kraken isn't awful. In short bursts Mieville is inventive, sometimes startlingly so. But the novel read like a suspense movie that goes on too long and I stopped caring about the plot and/or characters. And some of the stronger elements weren't strong enough to support storyline cliches. Man stumbles into a secret, underground magical culture that's hidden all around him? Check. Same man has secret powers he doesn't understand? Check. Evil villains out to kill him before he masters these powers? Check. And the whole “Squid as God” seemed silly. Last night I dreaded Kraken. That's as good a time as any to slip this book into the library bookdrop so somebody else can give Mieville a try. Maybe that person will like Kraken more than me.

Also, Kraken at moments was uncomfortably similar to Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. Not only is the whole “underground London” setting key for both novels but other elements cross as well. Goss and Subby, the assassin team, shared characteristics with Croup and Vandemar. Weird. Maybe this was purposeful. I don't know. I'd give Mieville another shot. Maybe I started with a weak title. Perdido Street Station looks interesting. I'll skip the squid.

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