Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Sitting Under the Shade of the Tree: Kraken

I don't know how the weather is for the rest of the country, nay the world depending on where you're reading this from, but down here it's taken a miserable turn. A shame after the beautiful weekend we've just had (which I may indulge upon in a subsequent blog post, but not today), but in spite of the gloomy weather, I feel it's the time of the year to justify switching the "literature segment" title to the spring/summer vibe one. And thus, today (or more precisely, for about the last month or so), I have been sitting under the shade of the tree enjoying Kraken by China Miéville.

Honestly, I fear that I'm turning into a bit of a fanboy. In fact, with the notable exception of The City & The City, the first China Miéville book I read, I have posted a review entry for every one of his books I have read since. Oh gods. I really am a fanboy...

(Also, amusing side-note, after bitching about gloomy weather - it's been rain today - the Sun poked its head out for a brief second. Frakkin' indecisive British weather).

Back to the matter at hand.


This is the first China Miéville book I have read which is set in a real place. The Bas-Lag trilogy (reviewed so far: Perdido Street Station and The Scar) is set in the titular world, with the focal point being the city of New Crobuzon. Embassytown is set on the planet Arieka, in the eponymous city. Finally, the un-reviewed (oh so very tempted to do a retrospective one now...) The City & The City is set in the parallel cities of Besźel and Ul Qoma. But our latest adventure, Kraken, is set in merry old London.

Well, perhaps not so merry really.

The book centres on Billy Harrow, a curator at the Natural History Museum, who one day finds that his prized specimen, a preserved giant squid, has been stolen. With no signs of forced entry or any evidence of how the large glass tank the squid was encased in was moved out of the building undetected. It is this incredibly bizarre set of circumstances that hurl Billy, unwittingly and unwillingly, into the dark and seedy underbelly of London's occult, where he will be caught between multiple warring gangs, kraken-worshipping cults and general all-out crazy random magic happenings.

Now my usual fanboy babble is about Miéville's construction of an environment that functions, or at least feels, like a character unto itself. But this time, I would go too far with that gushing praise. The trick here is that London is already a character - like many cities across the worlds, its citizens and citizens of the country that it's in, give it character. London has its own vibe. What Miéville masterfully does this time is take London's existing vibe, plunge into a dark box, and twist it mercilessly and brilliantly, stripping off the layers of what we know as London and creating a new side to the city. And this new face, the face of London's true underbelly (move over London Underground), is wacky and bizarre and utterly incredible.

Initially, while reading Kraken, I was taking it deadly seriously. But in retrospect, I realise just how cheeky that little book is. And it's fantastic. The characters are brilliant, realised amidst Miéville's near-scholarly mastery of the English language. I won't go into too many details, but there are secondary group of characters - the Metropolitan Police's Fundamentalist and Sect-Related Crime Unit, the FSRC, led by the constantly nonplussed Detective Chief Inspector Baron, aided by the highly unorthodox, completely tactless Police Constable Kath Collingswood. The FSRC are just one of the players in Kraken's events, which as the novel (and Billy Harrow's spiral into the chaotic world of magical London) progresses promise to be of apocalyptic proportions.

Finally, I'm going to delve into a little backstory - but for once, this babble is an afterthought, not the opening salvo. For you see, I had an interesting ulterior motive in reading this book.

I hate tentacles.

Honest to gods, the frakkin' things make me shudder. And I realise the dangers of openly admitting to this kind of thing on the Internet, but oh well. The thing of it is, I read Kraken mostly because I wanted to level the hell up. The mention of the tentacles and their suckers still make me shudder quite a bit, but I managed to get through it. They didn't make me want to put the book down. Which is both a testament to how damn frakkin' good the book, and by extension China Miéville's writing, and I sincerely hope an indication of how much I'm growing as a person. We'll see if I ever happen to cross paths with a squid.

I'll most likely scream like a little girl and run away.

Interesting side-notes - in the course of doing some quick Wikipedia double-checking for this blog entry, I discovered that the US Navy had a submarine in World War II called USS Kraken and that there's a body of liquid on Titan, Saturn's moon, called Kraken Mare. The random things you learn from those cheeky disambiguation pages.

Until next time, this has been my latest fanboy ramble about the awesomeness of China Miéville. If you haven't gone out and read any of his books, seriously...what the frak? Get out of your chair, right now. Or don't. Go to Amazon. Order it online. Buy it for your Kindle. Whatever. Dude. Seriously. Buy it. Right frakkin' now. I'm not kidding. Any of them. All of them.

I think everyone gets the message now... 


  1. Sounds like a good one Dave.

  2. Have you read Railsea? It has just come out in paperback and looks good. Want to read more of his stuff. Will be looking at your other reviews, right now!

    Josh S