China Miéville's star continues to rise and burn a little brighter with each new release. With 2009's THE CITY & THE CITY, he landed critical raves and recognition and earned himself some nice awards. He's been a growing presence in the middle of the list of the science fiction/fantasy world, his name getting more whispers and a growing interest. Now, with his latest book, KRAKEN, Miéville unleashes a novel that is pure fun to take up.
Young scientist Billy Harrow works at London's Natural History Museum, specifically in the Darwin Centre. His latest task is to embalm the most recent acquisition of the Museum: Architeuthis, Kraken, an enormous squid. The exhibit is stolen, and in order to regain the prize, Harrow must plunge himself headlong into an alternate-universe London, one full of magic and mystery, and a squid cult that believes he is a prophet.
While some seem more one-dimensional than living entities, the cast of characters is an exhilarating assortment: a Wiccan police constable, a gang known as the Knuckleheads, a father-and-son assassin team, and a host of others. Miéville does a complete 180 from the grit and somber tone of THE CITY & THE CITY, and instead brings forth a more playful tone such as he exhibited with his children's book, UN LUN DUN. This may put some people off, but what it does is show that he is no one-dimensional craftsman. Rather, Miéville is a gifted visionary and one of the better imaginative wordsmiths of our time.
One of the standout characters, the one most full of life and wonder, is London. Miéville adores London, and his mythical and magical take on the city is a true joy. His alternate city is startlingly intricate and brilliantly devised, leaping to life from the page and clearly visible in your mind's eye. I imagine that, were a reader familiar with the actual London of our world, they may find "easter eggs," of a sort, hidden in Miéville's version.
KRAKEN is fun, exciting and filled with a playful energy that is quite infectious. That said, it doesn't quite land the emotional punches as he did in his previous work, or of another mythic tome, Neil Gaiman's AMERICAN GODS. In some ways, though, this is Miéville spreading his wings or, rather, his tentacles. He is still quite clearly China Miéville, though a bit more playful and, dare I say, Pratchett-esque in some of his witticisms.
THE CITY & THE CITY was an incredible book that deserved all of the adulation heaped upon it. KRAKEN is equally deserving but for so many different reasons. It is refreshing to see a writer so adeptly re-imagine themselves in the span of one book's time, and in the process continue to climb the rungs of the ladder of what deserves to be a wider audience.
Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard on January 3, 2011