Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Book Review: "Kraken" by China Mieville

When I finished the audiobook of China Mieville’s new novel “Kraken”, the first thing that went through my mind was was that it’s not too often that you come to the end of a book and think “I’ve never quite read anything like that before” – and it’s wonderful to realize that authors can still surprise and delight you.

Now I’m sure we can all agree that giant squids are awesome.  And I have always been fascinated by them.  Why?  Because they might be the last “monster” left on earth.  Smart, powerful, dangerous and “other” -- they’re not like you and me, these invertebrate behemoths of the deep.  So when this book popped up on some “if you liked that, you might like this...” algorithm, I knew that I had to give it a try.

Billy Harrow is a curator at London’s Natural History Museum and one day finds that his prize specimen -- a recently collected giant squid, indeed its entire tank full of preserving fluid -- has been stolen.  Who steals a giant squid and moreover how?  These questions lead Billy into a world hidden within our own -- one of magic, power, strange religions, its own police unit, and dangerous politics.  After the theft, things go from bad to worse, as it becomes alarmingly clear that the theft of the squid is central to an onrushing Apocalypse that threatens to wipe out all things.  The ensuing story is thoughtful, funny, scary, thrilling , and at times, oddly touching -- maybe the most bizarre whodunit I’ve ever read.

I’m sure that Mieville’s book will be compared to Neil Gaiman’s “Neverwhere” -- another novel that explores a world-within-a-world in London, but the book reminds me more of Neal Stephenson’s “Anathem”.  What makes this book so good to me is that like Stephenson, Mieville creates an incredibly realized world like nothing we’ve really seen and makes you believe in it and the fantastical characters that reside in it.  Mieville’s story has maybe a half-a-dozen ideas that are clever and powerful enough to power their own novels outright, but here are brought into service of this one.

The other thing that made this book an absolute joy to listen to was Mieville’s use of language.   He wielded grammar and vocabulary so deftly that it made me feel like English was my second language.  So much so, that in an unprecedented move, I am actually buying the physical book so that I can go back and re-read it sometime.

I don't believe in book-review grade-inflation, but easily five stars out of five.


Budd said...

As I liked both Neverwhere and Anathem immensely, you have me intrigued, sir. Alas, I have promised myself that I would read everything on my to read shelf before reading anything non book club. wait audio book you say. hmmm.

Budd said...

Library didn't have it on audio book, wouldn't you know it.

Nick said...

Interesting review. From what I've read in interviews and whatnot China Mieville and I think along similar veins and so I'll be reading a bunch of his stuff eventually.

I started Perdido Street Station, while I was on vacation last week and it's promising as well. Although I have to flip back to finish the Chronicles of the Black Company.

SteveB said...

Nick -- I had never heard of, or read any of, China Mieville's books before, but after this I'm certainly going to be getting more.