Posted by: Sally Ingraham | May 8, 2011


by China Mieville

This book was exactly what The Doctor ordered (yes, that doctor). I’ve been meaning to return to the weird worlds of China Mieville ever since reading Un Lun Dun last August. Inspired (now twice in a row) by Isabella of Magnificent Octopus (whose review of Kraken is here), I picked this 500+ page deep sea monster of a novel up from the library piles on Tuesday and was promptly, er, sucked in (tentacles being rather difficult to extract one’s self from…)

Oh my goodness, gracious. Mieville has reached new heights on the outrageousness scale (at least in my somewhat limited but enthusiastic opinion). Here we have a London where end-of-the-world scenarios crop up every other day, and every cult has its own honest-to-god god. However, one particular apocalypse is looming rather larger than these types of things usually do, and the giant squid carefully preserved at the Natural History Museum has gone missing, which really upsets the Krakenists. Beneath the lapping waves of the lives of your average London citizen, eruptions and earthquakes rock the floor of the ocean, a.k.a. the vast secret society of those who can work magik and knackery. The memory angels are on the warpath, the familiars are striking, the Tattoo is menacing, the Londonmancers are no longer neutral, and Billy Harrow (who not that long ago was merely a curator) is the focus of a personhunt headed up by the Chaos Nazis and (all the gods forbid) the fearsome Goss and Subby (easily one of the best/most horrible villainous pair I’ve ever encountered).

Mieville’s stuff is pretty freakishly awesome. The characters he comes up with (momentarily glimpsed or roaring repeatedly off the page) are not lacking in distinctive features. The monsters and mayhem he creates are ridiculous and inventive, but at the same time his world is still solidly anchored in ours – Doctor Who, Star Trek, and Amy Winehouse all have parts to play here, as do friendship and trust and the sense that there is something bigger than (or as big as) just ordinary life at work here.

Mieville used his words in ways that I haven’t read before, so not only was the story rollicking good fun, it was also constantly tickling and startling my mind with turns of phrase and invented words and weirdly wonderful speech patterns.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this one and will of course be knocking on Mieville’s door again in the future. Having gotten my fill of fantastical worlds for the moment though (what with all the Doctor Who viewing, and then this book) I am eagerly embarking on a new adventure: Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. I’m a few (tiny) chapters in, and I already love it.

Enjoy your Sunday reading folks and friends and fantastic beings!


  1. I’m adding it to my list, sounds interesting!

    • Excellent.

  2. Kraken was an awesome read. It was my first China Mieville book and since I read it I have been systematically plowing through his novels. Not only did it bend the ‘norm’ in terms of magic, it really made me laugh.

    Seriously the part where the two writers are talking about ‘The Uncanny Blossom’ made me laugh so hard i spewed water out of my nose while i was at work. Goss and Subby were great antagonists with a twist on the old troupe.

    He does seem to have a recurring theme of a world inside of a world. He writes them well enough that it doesn’t bother me. He is a great writer and I look forward to more work from him.

    • This book and Un Lun Dun definitely have the world within the world concept. I’ll be curious to see how he does this in other books. I didn’t feel like there was any crossover between Un Lun Dun and this one – they were two separate fully realized places. Can he do this every time?

      Kraken did have some laugh-out-loud parts. Great fun.

  3. Great review. I was wondering this morning which book I should read next and held this in my hand for at least ten minutes. I started something else but your enthusiastic review tells me I need to get to it soon. I wasn’t sure after buying it anymore whether it was the right Miéville to start with. Fence from Susan Hated Litertaure wrote a review a while back and she also liked it a lot but I had forgotten her review again.

    • I feel as though I’ve come at Mieville the easiest way, starting with his “young readers” book and then following up with what Isabella called not her favorite but certainly the most fun of his works. I’m eager to see what a more serious book by him is like.

      I think you would like this one for sure!

  4. Yay! I have this book. Have never read anything by him but remembered Isabella’s review and had the chance to pick a hardcover copy up at a Border’s sale for about two bucks and did. I need some fun right about now. Maybe I will read this next. When I peeked into the book at the store, I was really attracted by the language.

    • The language is pretty cool, and there is no doubt that this is a fun book. Actually I think I noticed it on your sidebar and had an “Oh yeah!” moment recently, which made me pick it up. 🙂

  5. I haven’t read any Mieville but Tony read this one for BookPage a while back and really enjoyed it. I’ve been wanting to try something by this author for a while, but haven’t made him a priority, though I don’t know why. This really sounds like a book I would love. I mean, what’s better than a giant squid?

    • Right?? The squid rocks. I definitely think this would be up your alley. I’ll have to go track down Tony’s review!

  6. This sounds like tons of fun. I have a co-worker with a giant squid fixation…I wonder if she’s read this!

    • I’m pretty sure you might like this Emily, but I would certainly be curious to find out for sure!

  7. Mieville is wonderful! I’ve read a lot of his older stuff and am waiting with baited breath for his newest, Embassytown. Looks like I need to get me a copy of Kraken as well!

    • I’m excited that I have so many books to look forward to. I can’t decide what to read next though… Suggestions?

  8. I was just thinking about Kraken — I’ve just started Embassytown, in which Mieville surpasses all bars for freakish awesomeness. But I’ve been trying to place Kraken within Mieville’s oeuvre, and as rollicking fun as it is, it still comes out near the bottom. The thing from Kraken that sticks with me though is the acknowledgement and celebration that most scientists were once Trekkies or whatever, that science is an arena where fact and fiction totally feed each other.

    • Yes, I loved that he pointed that out! It boggles my mind that this is low on your Mieville rankings – and totally thrills me too, since I have so much to look forward to. Thanks again for introducing him to me. 🙂

  9. […] Kraken by China Mieville as well as Embassytown (never reviewed but thoroughly enjoyed) proved once and […]

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