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Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
A fascinating new novel by China Miéville, author of Perdido Street Station, which won the 2001 Arthur C. Clarke Award the 2001 British Fantasy Award, and was nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, Locus and British Science Fiction awards. (He also wrote "King Rat", but not the "King Rat" that is set in a WWII POW Camp. )

The publishers would like you to think that it's similar to Neil Gaiman, and sure, two of the villains in this story are reminiscent of "the Old Firm"(but nastier, if that's possible). But I see more Tim Powers and James Blaylock, with more than a touch of H.P. Lovecraft (or maybe it's just all those tentacles....).

It's technically Urban Fantasy, set in more or less modern day London. But it also has more than a little horror. And, oddly enough- it has some rather humorous bits too. Both scary and funny at times. The authors obvious love for and deep knowledge of London gives the book added depth.

Our protagonist is swept along by events and people (and things) he hadn't any concept of in his prior life as a museum curator. He is forced out of his humdrum existence by the impossible theft of a giant squid pickled in a huge tank of formalin, a kraken that he himself had a hand in preserving.

Enlivened by some interesting and original characters, including a few new deities and religions, it's entirely a different kettle of cuttlefish than your usual urban fantasy. It's also not a book you want to read yourself to sleep with. (The tentacles!!!!! Eeeeeeeeeeee!)

It's different. It's dark. It's scary. It's different. It's humorous. It's well written. It's worth reading. It's... did I say different?
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VINE VOICEon May 31, 2010
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
In Kraken, London is a strange place, a city with characters and entities having strange powers, a place of bizarre creatures, and a mystery or two.

Museum curator Billy Harrow goes from having a normal, simple life, giving tours and preparing specimens, to a creepy, haunted one in the midst of a frenzied search for a stolen specimen of a giant squid from his museum. There is a Congregation of the God Kraken, you see. God was just stolen. Who stole it is a mystery, but there is no mystery that, whoever took it, others now see its value, and want to recover it. Billy is thought to know more than he lets on, so he also becomes a target of this search.

There's a deep complexity to this story, and to author China Mieville's writing:

"He had been a point of awareness, a soul-spot, a sentient submerged node, and had drifted over an ocean floor that he had seen in monochrome, lightless as it would have been, and that had pitched suddenly into a crevasse, a Mariana Trench of water like clothed shadow." This was a bit of Billy's dreaming... inspired by the kraken?

There are mysterious and unique characters here. Tattoo, Wati, Jason, Subby and Goss... And the real folk, Dane and Collingswood and Marge (as well as Billy), each have their own learning curve and adventures.

But this was a story that seemed... excessive. The detail dampened my enthusiasm for the tale. It became a chore to continue to read. And when the twists and turns came to their conclusion, I was left with a sense of relief, not of knowing how things turned out, but that it was over. Ouch. Mieville seems to have been caught up in developing the minutiae of actions, conversations, and interactions. The detail drove the story, instead of the story driving the detail.

The Star Trek connection, including a working phaser, was a stretch. And the inability of "normal" folk to have any clue that all this magic is happening around them all the time was also strange. After all, London's newspapers are so competitive that you think any weirdness would hit the front page. Everybody would be looking out for eccentric characters, wouldn't they?

I noted the sage comments of the Teuthex, or high priest of the kraken worshippers, concerning religion:

"'I'm asking you all to have faith. Don't be afraid. 'How could it have gone wrong?' people have asked me. 'Why aren't the gods doing anything?' Remember two things. The gods don't owe us anything. That's not why we worship. We worship because they're gods. This is their universe, not ours. What they choose they choose and it's not ours to know why."

I didn't like the book. That's different than saying it was bad, or incomplete, or poorly written. It just wasn't my cup of squid ink.
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Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
China Mieville writes like nobody else. Exceedingly erudite (he has a PhD) he throws many words you've never heard of into this fantastic brew taking place in his London- and London to him is a huge living thing, a great breathing, crouching beast. Windows rattle and bricks speak and of course there's plenty of swirling fog to top everything off. His writing is quirky, he uses highly inventive similes such as "Bits of rubbish shifted in gusts, crawled on the pavement like bottom feeders." London is alive if not well.

Mieville carries you with him with great skill. You're there. You shudder. You shiver. You laugh. He takes you into the bowels of London. He wraps you the reader in a supernatural cocoon where all the ends are tied up and you can't escape. Where bizarre events and supernatural goings- on appear quite normal. You are plunged into a surrealistic world of strange cults, pagan apocalypses and god-like reptiles."Kraken" is concentrated New Weird which takes a bit of time to get used to.

The action starts when Billy Harrow, the unassuming curator of mollusks in the Darwin Center is leading a group of visitors on a tour when he discovers the Center's star attraction, an eight meter long giant squid preserved in a huge tank of formalin, has disappeared tank and all. It is unthinkable, it is impossible but there is a great gaping space where the squid used to be.

Billy embarks on a mission to solve the mystery and he is plunged into a surrealistic world of twisted and peculiar events, and crosses the path of strange cults, all fighting each other to conquer with their own particular apocalypse.

Somehow the disappearance of the giant squid has set in motion a series of horrible events, an Armageddon which will destroy the world. This is a roller coaster ride and the reader finds he is sucked into a world that is impossible yet believable. That's part of Mieville's genius: he makes the outré, the fantastic, the surreal quite believable. There is a holy war going on with a giant squid as a god and some are not taking the theft of their god well.

Billy has a large supporting cast, but he remains the pivotal character of the book, unassuming, modest and rather endearing. The local London police have a special division called the Fundamentalist and Sect related Crime Unit, its most illustrious member being the brash, witchy no- holds- barred Kath Collingswood "trendily unkempt." Dane, who is a worker at the Darwin Museum, belongs to a Krakenist cult and isn't a bit happy about the theft of the squid-god. Dane and Billy join ranks with Wati, a member of the spirit world who insinuates himself into strange objects, statues, stares through "wooden eyes on a Jesus" He sometimes inhabits nerdy objects, too, such as Star Trek's Captain Kirk.(Mieville is gently pulling our leg here). Crime lord Tattoo with his terrifying undead henchmen, Goss and Subby is Billy's chief antagonist.

Will the snarled, convoluted groups of squid worshipers get their giant mollusk back safely in the Darwin Center? Can Armageddon be held at bay? Ah, you have to read the book and you're in for a different, very different reading experience. The novel is 500 pages long but you'll be swept into that cocoon where Mieville imprisons you and he's not going to let you go! You may never have given a thought before to a giant squid, but you will now!
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on June 23, 2010
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I got an advanced reading copy of this book through the Amazon Vine program. I have previously read Mieville's King Rat (loved it), Un Lun Dun (liked it), and The City & The City (tough read, but interesting). I have mixed feelings about this book. Some of it is quite funny and creative, but a lot of it is just annoying.

You follow a number of different characters throughout this book. The main character is Billy, who is a curator at the Darwin Center. He runs tours of the facility in addition to other duties and the main draw on his tour is a giant squid that has been preserved in a large tank. Only on his current tour, something is wrong, the squid is missing. How does a giant squid just "go missing" from a giant tank? Well two police officers that specialize in a rather abnormal branch of the police force suspect it may all be the fault of that silly religious squid group. They pull Billy into a crazy underground world in London that's full of magic, mayhem, and numerous religious cults. Billy will find that it may be up to him to stop the apocalypse itself.

I liked the first couple chapters of this book and enjoyed the ending. The concept behind this novel is quirky and interesting and definitely creative. All of the characters are completely off the wall. You have Tattoo, the gangster-like character that exists only as a tattoo on a catatonic man's back. Collingsworth, a slight female police officer who has a bad case of tourette's. And a billion other incredibly crazy characters. The overall concept behind this story is very thoughtful. Basically Mieville is exploring the concept of people making things happen because that is what they believe to be true.

There are also a ton of things I did not like about this novel. It is a difficult and time-consuming read. The chapters are erratic in length and the viewpoint switches between numerous characters. There are about a million plot lines with as many characters going on at once. Then there is the Brit-speak, this is especially bad in the beginning of the novel but gets better as it goes on.

Mieville also just throws so many random facts at the reader that after a while (between all the Brit-speak and random junk) my eyes would just glaze over and my thoughts start to wander. Next thing I would be yawning and cursing this stupid book because it never really sticks to the story or gets to the point in any but the most meandering of ways. This was a book I constantly had to push myself through, I had to concentrate to get it to hold my interest. Which is really a pity because between all the extraneous junk, there is an interesting and darkly humorous story in here.

The other bothersome thing is a similarity to other works already out there. The setting reminded me of Neverwhere by Gaiman or The Haunting of Alaizabel Crane by Chris Wooding (I know different time period). The deal with all the gods reminded some of Gaiman's American Gods. The crazy wackiness with which random events and different deities popped up reminded me of Simon Green's Nightside series. And in my opinion all the aforementioned works are much more well done. Anyone who compares Mieville's writing style to Gaiman is on crack, Gaiman writes an absolutely wonderful story and Mieville, while creative and innovative, tends to not focus on the story itself. The setting between Neverwhere and this book are somewhat similar though.

So should you read it? If you liked The City and The City this book is written in the same somewhat fractured and strange style, so you may enjoy it. Just know that this book will require a lot of patience to get through. You will have to struggle through Brit Speak and weed out all the random excess of data Mieville throws at you. It is creative and darkly funny but a tough read. Personally it just wasn't my thing and put me off picking up any of Mieville's future works.
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VINE VOICEon June 16, 2010
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
While the publisher's blurbs all blather about this story being "Lovecraftian," Cthulhu enthusiasts need not apply. There's an annoying trend in literary circles - if it's got tentacles, it's got to be an homage to Lovecraft. What this book REALLY feels like is a mash-up of Neil Gaiman's Greatest Hits...we've got old gods and small gods and city gods and ancient gods (American Gods and Sandman) and strangely literal cultists and underworlders, not to mention the "Old Firm," Goss and Subby (Neverwhere) and a tough-as-nails young female cop who sounds an awful lot like Anathema from Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, only with a mild case of Tourettes. (Don't get me wrong; Collingswood was absolutely my favorite character.)

Mieville has always been a grand master of weirdness, but in Kraken, I think he may have gone a bit too far. The Britspeak is overwhelming at times, but that isn't all of it - the real trouble is that half the book feels like one long smash-cut in a movie. Things happen very, very quickly, and with very little explaination, and some of the characters were underdeveloped to the point that I couldn't understand why they were doing certain things, or even HOW they came to do them. Sure, I understood what was going on by the end, but for the first 350-400 pages I needed to flip back over and over to remind myself of what I just read a few pages back.

There are a lot of genuinely brilliant moments in Kraken that kept me going all the way to the end - the origin of Wati being my personal favorite - and I do always enjoy Mieville's peculiar way with language. I'd recommend this to Neil Gaiman fans, of course, but mostly to fans of Mieville's other work. Mieville is still better on his worst day than most authors dream of being, but I don't think this book will go down as one best works.
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Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I'm sorry to have to say that Kraken was a huge disappointment to me. I like what is commonly referred to as "the new weird" and I sincerely wanted to like Kraken, but after about the first 200+ pages I found that I was prepared to do almost anything to avoid reading it. It's close to 500 pages long and so little actually happens in those pages that I found myself wondering why I was bothering.

Don't get me wrong, there's a kind of amazing, whacked-out Wonderland quality about Mieville's London. It's teeming with creatures -- human and otherwise -- who move easily through many layers of alternate reality. They're intriguing and bizarre, and they're what carry this story. But they can only do it for so long. Once their appearances became commonplace, I began to notice all the failings of the narrative: too many characters who do very little to advance the plot, too much to-ing and fro-ing with nothing being accomplished. Too many ??? moments with no real attempt at answering the questions, as if Mieville was channeling the writers of "Lost." Mash-ups can be fun, but they have to produce something which is greater than the sum of the mashed-up bits and Kraken isn't that something.

Seriously, if someone edited out about two hundred pages and tightened up what was left this might be a five-star read. As it is, it's rambling and often confused; if Kraken was a film, you could go off and make a sandwich and come back knowing that you really hadn't missed anything critical. China Mieville can do better.
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on September 15, 2010
China Mieville is an author whose books don't often live up to the scope of his ideas, and Kraken is no exception in this regard. This is not to say that I don't like his work, or that I didn't enjoy Kraken, but going back to Perdido Street Station and the Bas Lag novels, he has the habit of jamming awesome ideas into his novels that unfortunately don't always work with the plot he's constructed. I get the feeling that he makes things up as he goes along, and molding his ideas to fit into a cohesive story is not one of his strong suits. I've always preferred Mieville's short fiction to his novels -- when constrained by a shorter format, his stories are much more satisfying and focused.

Kraken centers around a scientist at the Museum of Natural History in London named Billy who is responsible for preserving a specimen of a giant squid, architeuthis. The squid is one of the most popular exhibits at the museum, but has also caught the attention of London's secret underworld of mages and cults, who believe it to be both a god of the deep and the harbinger of an apocalypse. The Kraken is stolen from the museum, although there is no practical way to remove it from the room. Billy finds himself flung into the depths of a London he never new existed, a reluctant prophet for a cult that worships the squid, as well a person of great interest to the various supernatural factions in the city. What follows is a fairly standard "chase the McGuffin" story in which Billy and his new allies attempt to locate the squid and stop the end of the world, while various antagonists hunt for him.

I won't reveal any spoilers here, because there's lots of great surprises in the book -- an unusual labor movement, a Star Trek loving mage (as well as an insightful look into a particular Star Trek trope that is often taken for granted by fans), a pair of terrifying immortal hit men called Goss and Subby, a man with a bizarre tattoo on his back and much more. However, for all the unique ideas, I can't help but think of Kraken as a crazier version of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, or a saner version of Grant Morrison's comic book series, The Invisibles - either way, it covers ground that other writers have explored in better stories. In many ways, it is a conventional urban fantasy novel, except unlike others in the genre, the characters are ciphers who exist to carry Mieville's big ideas. Billy, though the central character, is mostly unknown to us through the end. We know he's very good at pickling squids, but other than that, we learn very little about him as a person. Others we get to know a little better, but given the strength of Mieville's past protagonists, I expected more.

Overall, Kraken is an entertaining read, but not Mieville's best. If you're new to his work, I'd recommend starting out with Perdido Street Station and The Scar, both of which are worth your time.
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VINE VOICEon June 18, 2010
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I've read all of Mieville's novels available to date - and Kraken is his most mediocre. There is too much going on of little relevance (the sidebar storyline with one of the side characters' girlfriends, for instance) that a self-respecting editor should have strongly encouraged Mr. Mieville to cut or otherwise restrict to the truly necessary.

The core plotline follows Billy Harrow, a mid-level museum scientist who's thrust into a secondary world that exists behind-the-scenes in modern-day London full of space-time traveling murderers, magicians (Londonmancers), weird religious cults, urban shamans, and other magical creatures and criminals. Readers who remember the 1990s role-playing game Shadowrun, with its blend of cyberpunk and urban fantasy, will feel right at home in Mieville's London.

Billy, with various cohorts, must figure out who has stolen the Kracken exhibit from his museum and how they did so without spilling a drop of water or leaving any mundane clues. Thus ensues a host of mayhem, intrigue, and sleuthing by Billy and numerous secondary characters.

I imagine Mr. Mieville must have had a flowchart or some other diagram to keep track of the various storylines and interconnections in the book; he does do a masterful job. And after reading Kraken, I'm sure you'll have to agree that few authors do it better.

That said, I did not find the book went as smoothly and as enjoyably as many other Mieville novels. There were sections with some of the characters where you may be so intent on getting back to Billy's adventures that you'll find yourself skimming.

And this leads me to my main criticism of Kraken: if a reader finds him/herself skimming, there is too much, especially too much that is superfluous to the main story. It's almost as if Mr. Mieville had one-and-a-half novels set in this magical, cyberpunk London. Rather than simply focusing on Billy Harrow with perhaps one or two side story threads, he adds in several more side-stories (that could've easily formed the basis for a second novel in this setting) and thus overstuffs the story.

If you've read other Mieville books - and particularly if you felt that Iron Council was simply "okay" - you'll likely have the same reaction to Kraken. If you've not read Mieville before, there is much better out there such as Perdido Street Station and King Rat.
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on July 11, 2010
Let me first say that I adore Mieville for his boldness. The Bas Lag trilogy was a watershed moment in fantasy fiction and truly wonderful. When he switched gears with "The City and the City" I stuck with him and was rewarded. But...

Kraken?

Hmm... Unfortunately, I've read two novelists that have succeeded in constructing a much cleaner and consistent magically dark London, Conrad William's "London Revenant" and Neil Gaiman's "Neverwhere", which boldly succeed where I think Mieville has failed here. Instead, we're given a salad bar of waxing indulgence that turns Kraken into an overwrought progressive rock album from the 70's. I love China's style, but it is way too overdone here... Chapters are short but to a fault. China bounces around so much, the chapter length doesn't discipline him to maintain a consistent story line. I kept waiting for it to break free into a gallop of storytelling where the loose ends come together, but it never quite does. Basically, the story threads loose scenes that play out as follows: a bizarre occurrence happens to the main characters that are then debated by other characters, who in turn decide that no one really knows what's going on, but will set loose another character to go investigate which then leads to another bizarre occurrence.... Step repeat the formula until the reader cares less and less, chapter after chapter.

The other issue is the mechanics of the End Times. Like so much paranormal fiction, we're merely threatened with an ominous "World Ending Event", but what is it exactly? I guess we're going to get a deus ex machina where the world will dissolve has a God-like hand crushes it? *yawn*...

There's some great Mieville monsters, but they're left in the wash of muddled indulgence. As with most terrific authors, I fear his editors may have let him wander off the reservation a little.
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VINE VOICEon August 19, 2010
A pickled and jarred giant squid has been stolen from the Natural History Museum of London and so begins the wild, tangent-ridden, and utterly delectable Kraken. Seers of London are predicting a fiery end of the world and to avert this the squid must be rescued. Gods of all stripes make appearances while the local police just muck everything up.

Kraken is quite a divergence from Mieville's last effort The City & The City, which was more of a somber and masterfully plotted police procedural. Word on the street is Mieville wrote both at the same time, which boggles the mind a little given how each feel like they weren't written on the same world let alone the same Universe. Kraken is a mad mix of China Mieville at his most weird with a pinch of Alan Moore on his a normal daily dose of acid with a healthy influence of Lovecraft to boot.

Kraken evokes the feel of a caper as the main characters are eluding many while in search of the missing squid and people responsibility for its disappearance. Given what I expect from Mieville nowadays I was actually quite bored for the first 70 pages and then all of a sudden Mieville brings the Weird in force and never lets up from there on introducing grotesqueries, out-there gods, wild concepts, and an inordinate amount of religious fanatics to the fray. Oh, and there are phasers! Can't forget the phasers. And yes they make sense as much as anything does in this story.

In Kraken nothing is true and everything is pure fact. Don't ponder that thought too much or you'll get lost in it. Mieville wants to create a sense of discomfort and surrealism from his readers, but with a bite of humor and satire about religion, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy in general. He also does cooler things with origami than even the best master out there. Kraken often reads as Mieville's bedside dream diary with constant apocalypses and flights of fancy taking off to dark, weird corners to bring his vision of London to light.

Everything boils to a fever pitch that doesn't disappoint, but will still leave you scratching your head weeks later wondering how the hell did Mieville pull that off? Kraken is Mieville's most accessible and fun adult work to-date even if it is a mess, but what a beautiful mess it is to behold. He wants us to wonder: Where the heck is this going? Then he'll change his mind and bring us along for the ride. The get is that he more than succeeds on that front. Mieville is still a master of his craft, he just melts that craft to fit whatever fiendish mold his mind comes up with. Man, now I feel like some calamari.
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