China Mieville has been one of my favorite authors for a number of years now. As the figurehead/poster boy for the New Weird, many writers have rallied around Mieville and followed in his footsteps or taken jabs at him. The New Weird was a big deal in the literary end of the SF/F community for several years, and is less popular now, but continues with bits here and there. I’m invested in the New Weird personally, given that I’m about to start shopping a New Weird novel to agents/publishers.
Mieville’s immediate previous novel (The City & The City) was less loudly New Weird and more urban fantasy/crime, but with Kraken, Mieville’s uncontainable imagination and penchant for the grotesque returns in full force.
Kraken starts with unsupecting Billy Harrow, an employee at the Darwin Centre in London who worked extensively with a deceased giant squid. Which means that when the squid (giant container and all) disappears without a trace, people come knocking on his door, including the Cult-crimes-response squad of the police as well as a pair of assassins. In keeping with the well-trod Urban Fantasy structure, Harrow gets pulled into the world of secret London, with all the knackers and movers and shakers behind the scenes.
Mieville’s secondary ideas are better than most any writer in the business, from the Chaos Nazis to Londonmancers (ala Jack Hawksmoor of The Authority) and police-esque ghost constructs summoned up by using tapes of old police procedurals. Mieville has a great facility with these details, great to small, that make the setting breathe and feel endlessly and messily lived-in.
Billy Harrow spends most of the novel on the run as warring factions, including an Animate Tattoo gang-boss, the eternally-neutral Londonmancers, and a Kraken-worshiping cult (which venerated Harrow’s specimen as a God, or at least, a Demi-God) forces move and converge to bring about/avert the apocalypse. Of course, anyone who wants an apocalypse works to make sure that it’s their apocalypse that comes about. No one wants to sideline in another group’s End Times.
The novel shifts easily between perspectives, bringing in other POV characters to convey the story and weave the weird tapestry that is Kraken‘s London. Mieville’s familiarity with/love of London and all its (weird) reality comes through clearly, helping contextualize the incredible craziness that he layers throughout the rest of the book.
Mieville’s language is very advanced, and sometimes challenging. It’s more accessible than in Perdido Street Station, but more obscure than in The City & The City. The baroque language is consistent, however, and usually well-contextualized. It’s just not a novel to hand to an average 15-year-old (an exceptional reader of a 15-year-old may be just fine, however) and it’s not the book to go to for a casual read. The book demands your attention, but if you give it, the book rewards you with unparalleled imagination, strong pacing, and chilling creepiness. (Goss and Subby are, for my buck, one of the creepiest henchmen duos ever).
Disclaimer: this review was written based on my experience reading an ARC, so keep that in mind in case the final version displays any differences.