I’m not a huge Mieville fan, but the descriptions I read of Kraken sounded like good fun. As I like fun books, and a fun book written by China Mieville seemed sufficiently improbable that I just had to see it, I picked it up a little while ago, and read it over the last week or so while biking to nowhere or waiting for SteelyKid to go to sleep.

The book follows the adventures of Billy Harrow, a biologist working for the Darwin Center in London, who was responsible for preserving the giant squid they have on display there. It’s the pride of the collection and a big tourist draw, so when Billy leads a tour group in and finds that it has mysteriously vanished, along with its giant tank, well, that’s quite a shock. It also brings him to the attention of the magical underworld of London, drawn into a battle between crime kingpins, squid cultists, and a looming apocalypse that is somehow centered on the missing squid. With the help of Dane, a security guard at the museum who was also a Krakenist, Billy has to evade religious cults, criminal wizards, and the police long enough to find the missing squid and stop the end of the world.

I was halfway through this when I realized why this sounded good: because it’s a Neil Gaiman novel. It’s basically Neverwhere with cephalopods. That’s both a strength and a weakness: whether intentionally or not, the story is a pitch-perfect imitation of Gaiman, who is a very good and enjoyable writer. At the same time, there’s nothing here that you could point to that would uniquely identify the text as Mieville. Maybe the incorporeal union organizer, but that’s about it, and I’m probably only saying that because it felt like the least essential of the many subplots. If you reprinted dustjackets identifying it as a Gaiman book, nobody would think twice.

So, you know, if that description sounds interesting, and you like Neil Gaiman, you’ll probably like this. If you read Neverwhere or American Gods and said, “this is good, but it needs more squid,” well, you’ll be ecstatic. It goes on a little longer than it really needs to, but it’s a perfectly good, fun read, just as it appears.

Comments

  1. #1 Skwid
    July 29, 2011

    …This is the first review that’s made me want to read this.

  2. #2 Chrisj
    July 29, 2011

    I was sold at “Neverwhere with cephalopods”.

  3. #3 cass_m
    July 29, 2011

    I think this was the start of the more mainstream Mieville (I didn’t really find it similar to Gaiman). Try reading The City The City. Indescribably yet accessible.

  4. #4 Melanie
    July 29, 2011

    He has a book called “Unlundun” which is sort of supposed to be for kids but I found entertaining. That one is also very Gaimanesque

  5. #5 Unwept
    July 29, 2011

    The similarity to Gaiman is quite true (and true of Unlundun as well, as Melanie said) but can I ask why you don’t like Mieville?

  6. #6 Chad Orzel
    July 29, 2011

    The similarity to Gaiman is quite true (and true of Unlundun as well, as Melanie said) but can I ask why you don’t like Mieville?

    I bounced off Perdido Street Station a couple of times, because it just felt gratuitously unpleasant. I haven’t read any of the other books in that series. He also said some kind of over-the-top things about rejecting any form of consolatory literature at Readercon several years ago, that I thought were a bit much.

    I didn’t mind The City and the City, though. And this was good. I haven’t read Un Lun Dun though I might give it a shot.

  7. #7 donna
    July 29, 2011

    I pretty much wanted it for the title to sit on my shelf. I’ve started it a few times, haven’t made it through yet. Perhaps when I run out of Scalzis again…

  8. #8 Nick
    August 1, 2011

    I would say that the Chaos Nazis had a distinctly Mievillian flavor to them, as did the discussion of teleportation. I did find it (and [i]Un Lun Dun[/i]) very Gaimenesque, though.

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