Billy Harrow works in the Darwin Center. Among other things, he’s kinda responsible for a giant squid (in formaldehyde, of course) – which one day just vanishes from the museum. But that’s just the start of the weirdness in Billy’s life: he soon finds himself in the company of Dane, a believer of a
squid cult Kraken Church, hunted by Goss and Subby – a more than macabre and scary duo in the employ of the Tattoo, the city’s mob boss – and desperately trying to avoid the end of the world that is connected to the vanished squid.
Kraken is a book that will sweep you off your feet and leave you completely breathless with its sheer inventiveness. Every time you think that you got the hang of everything, Miéville introduces a new idea, more or less mindblowing. It’s absolutely exhilarating.
Kraken is much more like Un Lun Dun than like The City and the City. It’s got the same phantastic invetion and the same sense of playfulness, though it doesn’t play with the genre conventions as much as Un Lun Dun did. It’s full of pop culture references. It’s funny and it seems like Miéville had his fun writing it. Take, for example, this scene:
“What was that squirrel?” Billy said.
“Freelancer,” Dane said.
“What? Freelance what?”
“Familiar.” Familiar. “Don’t look like that. Familiar. Don’t act like you’ve never heard of one.”
Billy thought of black cats. “Where is it now?”
“I don’t know, I don’t want to know. It did what I paid it for.” Dane did not look at him. “Job done. So it’s gone.”
“What did you pay it?”
“I paid it nuts, Billy. What would you think I’d pay a squirrel?” Dane’s face was so deadpan flat Billy could not tell if what he was facing was the truth or contempt. Welcome to this world of work. Magic animals got paid in something, nuts or something.
I absolutely loved it. There are just moments where I thought, “I never thought about things that way!” and the creativity of it all just blew me away.
The characters were wonderful – Dane, Wati, Kath… Billy is too much of a reader stand-in to achieve greatness, but I enjoyed him as well. And the villains were actually scary, especially Goss and Subby were creepy like hell. But also the Tattoo and his workshop… *shudder*
The book isn’t perfect, though. Towards the end, the narrative gets a little frayed and the ending isn’t that satisfying. Especially [SPOILER] Dane’s death, which should be heroic and everything and just isn’t. And Dane deserves better. [/SPOILER] Not to mention that the person behind it all was telegraphed from quite a distance.
As is usual for Miéville, he makes you work for what you read. But it is absolutely worth it.