Kraken by China Mieville
|Kraken by China Mieville|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A dense and rich urban fantasy regarding unusual cult objects and what they might lead to. A pity it was so dense, and that my urban world is one where rich can mean laboured.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 400||Date: May 2010|
Meet Billy Harrow, curator of molluscs and other pickled creatures. Imagine if you will Billy's thoughts on entering the chamber that houses the highlight of his museum's tour - an immense squid, housed in a glass crate - only to find the entire thing - animal and tank - impossibly removed. Imagine, too, the more esoteric kind of policeman and -woman needed to arrive, to tell him that his exhibit was the keystone of a mysterious cult with the end of times on their mind, and that they might just like Billy to infiltrate it and see what was precisely what. Just consider - is Billy, the man who bottled the giant squid, a John the Baptist to this cult, or a Judas?
And question too the mysterious glass-scraping noises haunting Billy, the entire London underworld gearing up to several other ends of days - and imagine too what might be in store for Billy if it were to turn out that the Kraken cult did not steal the squid?
I can posit such questions safely, because they arrive so early on in the novel. It is just the biggest shame that so much follows them, before the conclusions are eventually met - this book is definitely a hundred pages too long, if not more. There are other flaws too - I didn't find the style of dialogue of the policemen and -women at all realistic to begin with. And as for the growth in arcane knowledge Billy undergoes at the hands of one of the cultists, Dane...
This as an urban fantasy goes is exceedingly urban. Every factor of the city, however small, is wrapped up in the story somewhere, from the weather, a passing mouse, to the sea that laps against the Thames Flood Barrier. You might worship a squid, Star Trek or a gargoyle - chances are you would feature here. There is a great sense at times of a London akin to a storm-tossed trawler caught in the eye of the monstrous storm, but for me this book never truly surfaced - just as a sea monster would suffer in the shallows due to the loss of aquatic pressure.
Mr Mieville does prove at times he knows just what he is doing - his baddest of baddies, Goss and Subby, flounce through the city with a singular style of speech and a suitable menace. They could survive having their own franchise in the cinemas. But the great efforts to put everything capital in these pages meant the book never gelled with me. The way chapters dipped into and out of the plotlines of several characters, and seemed to focus on them from a short or long distance, seemed far too arbitrary for me.
Also, despite the visual style that allowed us to swoop from a huge, Eastenders credits-style panorama of the city right into the minutiae of someone's mind within a paragraph, I found what I was visualising I had seen before too many times with John Constantine, the Hellblazer. Again I was wading through pages for the occasional brilliant image, when that comic offers so many of the factors of this story in such a more concise manner.
There will be copious reviewers I am sure a lot more happy about crediting the densely-wrought cityscape and arcana featured here - a lot of this book seems right; however for me there was a lot of editing needed in pruning the slow-burning exuberance and providing an even blacker, more claustrophobic and wondrous fantasy.
I must also include a note that this book contains much, very strong language. It should not be bought instantly for all those who enjoyed Un-Lun-Dun.
I have to thank the publishers for my review copy.
I still rate A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin for London-based urban fantasy.
You can read more book reviews or buy Kraken by China Mieville at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
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