25 January, 2011

hark, a book review!

Wow, so I've really made good use of this, huh? >.>;;; In my defense, shortly after I created it, I got promoted at work, and that was basically the past six months done and gone. Oh retail Christmas, how I love to hate you.

Anyway, I thought I'd ring in 2011 by actually using this thing a bit. And to start I'm reviewing what turned out to be one of my favorite books of 2010, China Mieville's Kraken. Let me preface this by saying I am a huge Mieville fan; at this point I don't think he could write a book I wouldn't give five stars to. I even had to go back and add a star to my review of The City & The City because even weeks after I'd finished it I just could not stop thinking about it. And this, now, this little piece of genius has pretty much cemented him as my favorite author. I would write him fan mail if it wouldn't be epically creepy to do so.

Anyway-- an actual review of the book. Kraken begins with an impossible theft, that of the preserved giant squid from inside London's Natural History Museum, and its discovery by a very average, slightly nerdy scientist who works there. Billy Harrow is a wonderful protagonist-- one of the genius aspects of Mieville's writing is that his characters always feel like they might be you or someone you know-- and his descent from his very average life into a hidden city of cults and magic is immediately gripping because of the way the writing pulls you along every step of the way. You're experiencing everything with Billy-- the wonder, the fear, trying to reason out what's happening, rejecting the rules and deciding to do his own thing-- until you are in as deeply over your head as he is. And then along comes Dane. If Billy is the embodiment of everything familiar, Dane is the exact opposite: a holy assassin playing security guard, a man on fire with faith and devotion to a god most would call him insane to worship, a self-made exile from everything he holds dear for the sake of protecting the man he believes can save it. Everything about him is strange at first, but as Billy goes further and further into Dane's world, he comes to see his new protector as not only familiar but safe. And then, as a team, as partners, they dive all the way down the rabbit hole and try to save the world.

This book, like all of Mieville's, is astonishing in its complexity. The amount of work that had to have gone into plotting this thing out-- imagining all the cults, the creatures, the characters that are all intricate and complete entities even if their totality is only hinted at-- it boggles the mind. Chaos Nazis! Living tattoos! Tribbles and phasers that actually work! And characters like Wati, formerly a spirit buried with an Egyptian pharaoh to serve him in the afterlife, now the socialist strike leader for all the familiars of London. Like Goss and Subby, a pair of Croup-and-Vandemar-esque assassins who meander around the book bumping off the good guys with excruciating enjoyment. And Kath Collingswood, who really defies description but is one of the best characters I've had the pleasure of encountering in the pages of urban fantasy. But part of what really makes the book come to life is how London itself feels like a character. Certainly it's living and breathing to the characters that populate it, and under Mieville's loving pen it comes alive even for me, who's never seen it except in books and pictures.

Kraken combines the best of Neverwhere with the best of American Gods, adds in as many chases and fight scenes and displays of badassery my action-movie-loving heart could desire, along with a dash of grotesquerie and a healthy helping of Mieville's characteristic New Weird. The result is a wild and unpredictable ride that gathers momentum and doesn't come to rest until after its heart-stopping climax. I loved it beyond words-- despite the fact that I've just used several hundred to describe how much-- and if you pick it up, don't be surprised if it keeps you held tight in its tentacles until you've turned the last page.


  1. Just stumbled on your review. I have Kraken in my TBR pile and I was just trying to decide what to read next, after reading your post I think I really need to read this one. Great review, very helpfull, hope to see more.

  2. I *just* saw this comment right this second, I'm so sorry I never replied! I hope you loved Kraken as much as I did, and I am back to writing reviews on this page, so I hope my future reviews will be as helpful as this one was. Thanks for commenting! :)