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Kraken: An Anatomy Hardcover – 29 June 2010
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- Publisher : Del Rey (29 June 2010)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 509 pages
- ISBN-10 : 034549749X
- ISBN-13 : 978-0345497499
- Dimensions : 16.51 x 3.81 x 24.13 cm
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Top reviews from Australia
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If you haven't read China I would suggest the Scar because it's awesome but this is not far behind.
Loved every minute of it and on a genre peppered by spin offs this is truly original and amazing.
An embalmed kraken, a forty-foot-long giant squid, disappears from a London museum where Billy Harrow is a curator. There is no imaginable way that the kraken and its tank of preserving fluid could have fit through any of the too-small exits. The theft is investigated, first by the London police, then by a secret police squad that deals with the occult, and finally by Billy and a member of the underground cult that worships the missing kraken.
The story begins slowly, but picks up as readers encounter odd characters with odd motives and oddly-constrained magical powers. The memorable cast includes:
Dane, a devout member of the Church of Kraken Almighty, carries a spear gun because a regular gun isn't "squiddy" enough.
Wati, the ghost of an ancient Egyptian slave, organized a modern labor movement among the other ghost slaves. He can only see and speak through statues, large or small.
Tattoo, an oversized face tattooed on another man's back. A ruthless crime lord, he rages because he's always facing the other way when interesting things happen.
Grisamentum, a departed mage, is the best off-stage character since Godot . His menacing, unseen presence brings the story's ink to life.
Strangest of all is the villainous, man-and-boy presence of Goss and Subby. There's no stopping or understanding Goss and Subby. Once contracted, the job is always finished. Messily.
There are other characters, less central but no less colorful. They include gun farmers, who hatch and raise their own weapons; knuckleheads, strangely-transformed henchmen wearing black motorcycle helmets; memory ghosts, who inhabit and protect museums; and the Sea itself, dealing impartially through its embassy on a magically-concealed side street. These richly-imagined persons all make sense, each in their way.
I've yet to read a bad China Mieville book. Dismiss me as a fan, but maybe a fanatical mindset helps understand the intense, inter-cult conflicts of Mieville's London. There's much to digest after you wolf it all down. What's this thing the author has for embassies, for example? Perdido Street Station , here, then in Embassytown in a big way. One more oddity among many.
Top reviews from other countries
On another note, it's easy to compare Kraken to the Ben Aaronovitch "Rivers of London" series, which I read before I found Kraken, but Kraken for me conjured up more of a gritty atmosphere, whereas the RoL series are a bit lighter, though still very good.
I guess I'll still have to choose my next Mievlille carefully, but I will certainly be looking for one or more, based on this excellent story.
The first time I attempted this, I put it down after about150 pages in, realised I didn't care about anything enough to pick it up for a couple of weeks, and had to start again after forgetting everything. If you can stick with it, the payoff does ultimately reward the journey, but this is a fantasy novel that is probably too rich and overstuffed for its own good.
Is it overstuffed, a little flabby, a bit masturbatorily-written? Yes.
Does the Neverwhere-ish setting wear a little thin at times? Yes.
Were there dozens of passages which I had to re-read four or five times, because sometimes the author's preference for affectation proves stronger than his desire to communicate clearly? Also Yes.
However, overall, it's a fun read - occasionally pulpy but also often thoughtful. Also, there are some stand-out characters and scenes which are so good that I'm inclined to forgive some of the ropier stuff.
Overall, 4 out of 5; some of the book is perhaps more of a 2.5 out of 5 - but just try to power through those bits.
Make no mistake - this capitulation is a rare occurrence. I always finish books, particularly when I've sunk five quid into them.
So, why didn't I love it like I loved The City and the City ?
Three things killed it - the amount of fantasy (too much), the amount of plot (too little) and the characters (?).
The fantasy is just relentless. Barely a page gets turned without some fantastical new thing being introduced in the larky, lairy, Londony prose which dominates the book. So we have mancers and adepts and squids and familiars and talking statues and hexes and time shifting and living tattoos and angels and sects and spirits and God knows what else. There are tribbles in there as well and phasers, but I really started to lose it with the introduction of some sort of spirity, agenty things reconstructed from the discarded memes of 80s cop shows (guv).
Fantasy works best when it's firmly rooted in reality but in the Kraken, reality is soon nowhere to be seen. It's just gone, the story literally spiralling off into a world of its own, and with nothing to hold it in check it unfortunately gets a bit silly.
As for plot, it can be boiled down to this: no one knows what the hell is going on. The principal characters wander from scene to scene bumping into the latest fantasy contrivance and saying stuff like "we must contact the squid worshippers / magic squirrels / flood brothers / dead angels / talking statue / stoned Trekkie / etc / etc so we can ask them to explain the plot". Which they then, without exception, fail to do. After two thirds of a pretty lengthy books worth of this I had to admit defeat.
In the face of so much breathlessly expounded business the characters didn't really stand a chance. If I'd been desperate to find out what happened to them (Billy, Dane, the cops and the rest) I would have ploughed on despite everything else, but sadly I just didn't care.
That's why I didn't love it like I loved The City and the City.
That book took an intriguing but simple premise and wove a classic noir story around it, populated with interesting and believable characters.
The Kraken has the premise and then some, but not nearly enough of everything else.