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Minireview: Kraken, by China Miéville

Kraken, a standalone “urban fantasy” novel by China Miéville, is a strange beast (and features one). It’s the story of Billy Harrow, an emplyee of the British Museum of Natural History, who suddenly notices that a forty foot specimen of a (dead) giant squid has suddenly vanished from its display case. At the same time, a dead man is discovered stuffed into a giant glass bottle with a mouth much too small to fit a man – an impossible crime. A special secret squad of the London Police is called in, one which knows there is something sinister behind it all, and one which focuses on Billy and his possible role in the events. Billy himself gets slowly sucked into a world of secret squid cults, sinister urban sorcery, impossible technology, and a dead god which may or may not exist and which may or may not be a harbinger of the end of the world.

It’s a mad mix of a ton of ingredients, and precisely the sort of tale I tend to love. It’s convoluted, and features strange occult themes and high weirdness. Somehow, however, the whole thing left me a bit cold. Maybe it’s a case of too many ingredients, too much fine detail which eclipses the plot itself. It’s confusing, and the writing style is also a bit hard to follow at times, switching viewpoints with wild abandon. The book is a somewhat exhausting read, and while there are lots and lots of fantastic set pieces here and interesting characters, somehow the whole ends up being less than the sum of its parts. It’s well worth a read though; Miéville is a great writer and there’s a lot to love here. I view this book as a partly failed stylistic experiment.

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