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REVIEW: Kraken by China Miéville

REVIEW SUMMARY: Miéville’s best book so far.


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.

10 Comments on REVIEW: Kraken by China Miéville

  1. TheAdlerian // July 31, 2010 at 11:11 am //

    Firstly, if an author can’t put personal politics into his work that he slaved over for months, then where should he?

    With that aside, I dislike the disjointed writing style of his other books, so is this a more linear and clear narrative?

  2. TheAdlerian — oh, I may not have been clear. The way the politics were used was what felt strange, not the politics themselves. I quite agree with you on where the author can put them.

    Having read almost all of Miéville’s books (with the exception of Un Lun Dun) — I do think Kraken was the most linear and clear that I’ve read. Were I to recommend a starting point for someone who has not read Miéville before, this would be it.

  3. Ashley,

    I’ve read every Mieville except King Rat.  Un Lun Dun is my favorite.  Perhaps I’m a sucker for a YA novel where the heroine is waylaid and the story has to be finished by the sidekick.  Also, very inventive without too much darkness.

  4. Bob — interesting! I had not deliberately left out Un Lun Dun — just more of an… overlooking, I guess?

    King Rat does rank right up there near the top for me, too.  *thinking for a minute*

    I am definitely a sucker for a well-written, inventive YA novel, and I certainly know Mieville is capable of well-written and inventive.  Y’all may be talking me into my next review here. 🙂

    (Not to mention the fact that I’m getting more and more interested between Mieville and a couple of other things I’m reading in the whole idea of the creation of a London mythology…)



  5. China Mieville can do no wrong. Well…except for Un Lun Dun–but I’m not a big fan of YA novels in general, so I tend to just ignore its existence.

  6. Steve Oerkfitz // August 2, 2010 at 7:20 pm //

    Actually I thought this was China Mieville’s weakest novel so far. I much prefer The Scar, The City & the City and Persido Street Station.  I liked the beginning but felt it just went on and on much longer than necessary.

  7. Derek — interesting.  As I say, I’ve been hearing mostly good things about Un Lun Dun, but not all.  As it’s the only one I haven’t read, I still may read it next.

    Steve — Perdido Street Station was the first one I ever read, so it may well be time to go back for a re-read.  I thought The City and the City was amazing, too.  I’m very much a mystery girl, and to be able to combine my two favorite genres like that was right up my alley.

    I was initally very suspicious of Kraken. 50 or 100 pages in, I watched a short YouTube interview with CM that I *think* was done at Comic-Con (but I couldn’t swear to that).  I really should have linked to it in the review, because although it was five minutes or less, it went a long way toward me understanding what he was doing with the book in several places I had questions on.


    I am really appreciating everyone’s comments on this!  I am one who tends to think the most current book of an author I really like, such as Mieville, is always the best…  I will be interested to see if my opinion of Kraken stands up a year from now.  Before this, I think I would have said King Rat was my favorite of his.  We’ll see.


  8. I loved Kraken… my personal favourite Mieville book is still Perdido Street Station, just for the sheer scale and environment he created with that world, but Kraken is a very close second.

    I’m just amazed at the rate he’s churning out top quality books… award winners too. I wouldn’t mind betting Kraken will be put up for a Clarke next year too!

  9. Sam — I wouldn’t be at all surprised, re the Clarke.

    I think it’s cool that not only is he putting out the top quality books — but he’s being supported as he experiments with different things.  Part of the sheer joy of the read for me is seeing what he’s going to do next.


  10. Just finished Kraken and as someone who has read all of CM’s stuff, I think this might have been the best. My one complaint about this books is the same you made, sort of, though about a different plot point. Does anyone else feel like the ending “twist” was eye-rollingly stupid? As someone whose own beliefs couldn’t be further from the antagonist’s, I felt like the “bad guy” was a terrible charicature.

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