Book – Kraken
Author – China Mieville
Year – 2010
Genre – Weird Fantasy (that’s what the author calls it!)
Pages – 481
Bought for me by Mum and Dad
China Mieville has a slew of awards to his name, and a devoted following. A purveyor of a subset of fantasy called ‘weird fantasy’, he aims to move fantasy away from the Tolkien-esque ‘swords and spells’ cliche, and root it in a wide variety of other ways – he has said that he aims to write a book in every genre throughout his career. Having never read anything by him, I was quite interested to read this, his most recent effort, and see what the fuss is about.
Unfortunately, it is already a leading contender for the most disappointing book of the year award. To look at the positives, the concept is breathtaking. With the theft of the world’s only intact example of a giant squid from the Natural History Museum, Billy Harrow – the curator who discovers its loss – is thrown into a London he never knew existed, with squid cults, gun farmers, Chaos Nazis and more magic than you could imagine. Where Mieville gets some of the ideas from is beyond belief, and how he manages to introduce some of these ideas without the reader laughing at the ridiculousness of it all – one of the policewoman’s ‘snouts’ is a ghost pig that talks like Tweetie Pie – is quite brilliant. However, in harnessing this crazy world, he sacrifices some of the things that would make the book great.
The characters are terribly developed. Most of the time I have no idea why most of the characters are doing what they are doing – fine if they are a dead police spirit with little intellect, but more of a problem when it encompasses your main character – and as such there is little reason to route for or against anyone. The basis of so many of the characters is so sound that it makes this even more of a shame.
Additionally, certain sections of the text make little sense. Several times I found myself reading a page a couple of times, convinced I must have missed something. I definitely had, as major plot points managed to happen without me noticing. No matter how many times I checked though, I often couldn’t work out why the particular passage meant what it was supposed to mean. Difficult to explain, but suffice to say, I was confused. Stick in a seemingly unnecessary twist at the end which reeked of cop-out, and what was potentially a good thing is massively ruined.
However, I would definitely like to read some more by China Mieville. Reading through some of the reviews of the book on Amazon, Mieville fans in large seem to see this as a bit of a dip in his writing, and say that some of his earlier work is far better. I think that this might be where I am going next, because the idea of weird fantasy still appeals to me.