BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In a London where the magical is normal, mages see fire coming for the city. Billy Harrow is utterly unprepared to find out he’s supposed to avert the apocalypse.
PROS: I was never quite sure what was coming next, and I laughed out loud, which is a first with a Miéville book.
CONS: Be warned that this is not a beach read. It is intense. The involvement of the UMA, while a necessary plot point, felt a bit like forcing personal politics into the thing.
BOTTOM LINE: This is not your everyday apocalypse.
I was prepared to be unimpressed, and to tell you the truth, I wanted to be. After The City and The City, which read like a mystery version of Through the Looking Glass, I couldn’t see where Miéville was going to go next. He’s stated his goal of writing a book in every genre, and with Kraken, he did not let the side down.
Kraken has something for everyone: it’s got magic, it’s got mayhem of the truly nasty sort, it’s got political organizing, and it’s got Billy Harrow – who is somehow the center on which the whole thing turns. Don’t ask him why – he doesn’t understand it either.
Billy starts off as the curator at an exhibit at the Darwin Centre in London. It’s his turn to lead the tour group through when chaos ensues: Billy’s exhibit is gone, and no one knows what happened. Things happen at lightning speed, and several groups with warring agendas are all interested in having Billy, and they all want him now.
One of the more interesting things that Miéville has done with Kraken is that he has made London itself a character in the book. London is alive, and communicates its thoughts and wishes through various systems, one of those being a system of mages called Londonmancers. The Londonmancers are not without their own interest in the theft of the exhibit.
Billy initially goes to his friend Leon for help, which turns out to be a bad idea. Billy is then caught up with a former co-worker, Dane Parnell, as he works to liberate the stolen artifact from those who would use it for their own ends. At the other end of the spectrum, Leon’s girlfriend, the aptly named Marginalia (Marge for short), is furiously working to find out what has happened to Leon and Billy. She makes slow and steady progress.
Every character in this book has their own motive, and they are somewhat difficult to sort out. The book is intense, and for a lot of people, Miéville is an acquired taste. This one is worth investing the time, because it isn’t about your everyday apocalypse. It wants to know who you are. As you read, so will you.