Like most of his novels, China Mieville’s Kraken defies easy explanation. Here’s the plot in a nutshell: someone steals a giant squid specimen from the British Museum of Natural History. It’s up to museum employee and supposed squid prophet Billy Harrow to find it. Though no one agrees on who stole the squid, everyone agrees that if it’s not recovered quickly, the world will end.
Sound weird? It is. That’s what makes it so awesome.
Besides Kraken, the only other Mieville novel I’ve had the pleasure of reading is King Rat. The two are similar in terms of the author’s seemingly effortless ability to churn out unique ideas. Like King Rat, Kraken uses the London setting in a completely original way, presenting it as an urban war- zone disputed by numerous supernatural organizations. I think of it almost like a gangster movie, except that the gangsters in this particular story are a sentient tattoo, a pair of psychopaths who share a single heart, and a man who comes back to life as ink. The more you read, the more weird–and therefore awesome–things get.
The scope of Kraken is far greater than that of King Rat, which inevitably leads to some confusing moments. The climax especially is a bit murky, introducing a lot of new elements and strangeness, all very suddenly. I had to read it back over a few times, just to make sure I understood what was going on. But, for those who have patience, you’ll find a satisfying and exhilarating final few moments.
Though the novel weighs in at 500+ pages, there’s never a dull moment. It’s an impressive feat on the part of Mr. Mieville, especially considering that he’s juggling quite a large cast of characters, all representing different sides in the conflict. There’s no classic good versus evil struggle in Kraken. Rather, the conflict is more of an intentionally obfuscated mess of not-so-bad, not-so-good, and downright psychotic fantasy characters.
Or, in other words, a whole lot of fun.
If you’re looking for a fantasy/sci-fi/new weird/thriller/dark comedy novel from one of the most creative authors around, Kraken very well might be your book.