Kraken by China Mieville

Rating 8.5/10
A gritty, darkly comic urban fantasy.

China Miéville, three-time Arthur C Clarke Award winner and two-time British Fantasy Award winner, belongs to a group of authors who write “weird fiction”. Last year’s existential thriller, The City & The City, was a critical and commercial success and brought Miéville comparisons with the literary giants Orwell and Kafka. His latest, Kraken, is a dark and humorous homage to his many loves and influences and marks a departure in style from his earlier works.

Deep in the research wing of the Natural History Museum is a prize specimen, something that comes along much less often than once in a lifetime: a perfect, and perfectly preserved, giant squid. But what does it mean when the creature suddenly and impossibly disappears? For curator Billy Harrow it's the start of a headlong pitch into a London of warring cults, surreal magic, apostates and assassins. It might just be that the creature he's been preserving is more than a biological rarity: there are those who are sure it's a god. A god that someone is hoping will end the world.

Miéville is a bit of an acquired taste, he assaults the reader with an unrelenting bombardment of ideas and thoughts which may result in some sinking under their weight. Most, however, are delighted to swim along with the author, happily submerged in words and worlds created by an often ingenious imagination. It is no secret that Miéville is keen on moving the fantasy genre away from the Tolkien and Rowling pastiche and it is to HP Lovecraft that he tips his hat and presents this warm and affectionate tribute.

Kraken is very well-written, and in the main accessible. London is shown as a gangland populated by bizarre cults, worshiping dissident gods and waging violent warfare on each other. It is an urban fantasy with a sense of grandeur, almost epic in its theme but written with a playful hand. There are many books written by authors with incredible imaginations but unfortunately not all manage to remain within the necessary constraints and the resulting output is not always accessible, and often unreadable. Kraken does not suffer in this regard as Miéville always remembers the reader and always remains within the all-important boundaries.

Kraken is not an every-person book, some will love it, some will hate it, some will enjoy it but be left occasionally bemused. Miéville’s attempts at creating an urban fantasy that is fresh should be applauded and many will love the surreal nature and marvellously vibrant characters that inhabit its pages. Recommended for Miéville’s existing fans and those looking for a gritty, darkly comic urban fantasy.

Kraken
Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher: Macmillan (7 May 2010)
RRP: £17.99

China Tom Miéville is an award-winning English fantasy fiction writer. He is also active in left-wing politics as a member of the Socialist Workers Party. He teaches creative writing at Warwick University.

Those who have read and enjoyed Kraken may also enjoy Mark Charan Newton’s Nights of Villjamur, Adam Nevill’s Apartment 16 and NK Jemisin’s A Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.

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