Kraken – China Miéville

Another day, another procrastination of the Hamiltonian hugeness. This time, I even go back to stuff I didn’t like (sort of) to avoid it.

Despite having declared myself to have given up on China Miéville, at a friend’s suggestion (and lending of two books, Kraken and the Scar) I tried again. I am so very very glad that I did. At present, I have only read Kraken (a couple of days ago now, I am hopeless and late with my ‘blogging of my thoughts on this one) but fully intend to read the Scar too, based on my hastily revised opinions.

So, Kraken. Point one, it’s awesome. Read it.

Point two, it remedied the massive issue I had with the City and the City – the whole “is it or isn’t it?” nature of its fantasyness… and the ultimate conclusion of NOPE. Kraken is some properly fantastical fantasy. Magical shenanigans, god-monsters, the whole lot. Which is brilliant*. And it’s well done, not-entirely-standard fantasy too. It is another London based ooh-look-magic’s-real in an urban-fantasy, slightly gritty sort of way book, very much along the lines of Shevdon’s trilogy and the Rivers of London books. It’s also very serious with its magic. And it works. The seriousness goes very well with the haphazard realism of the “knacking” and the police stuff, and if anything augments the fantasy… though if I fully explained the plot to you without any sort of emotional colour, I suspect most people would imagine much more silliness and whimsy to be going on. It feels like a book which takes itself very seriously indeed, and somehow, even though it gets a bit mental in places, this makes it a lot better. Which is not normally what I say about books.

And now for the other point I normally fuss over – characters. Less of a win. It’s not like they’re not interesting but they do kind of lack the depth of say… most other authors’ creations. They’re better than what the City and the City had to offer, I know. People actually have some inner workings for me to give a damn about at all. But they’re still not what you’d call complex. Collingswood and Billy both get some mental elaboration during the course of the plot, and in quite different ways, but both in a very cold and clinical way. You don’t really get to get inside their heads in the same way you do with… I don’t know… Crowley in Good Omens, to pick a particularly good one. Or any Pratchett main character ever. But it’ll do. The rest of the book picks up the slack and you don’t really notice any lack until you sit down afterwards and try to come up with something to tell the internet about how well the author did his characters…

Ok, settingwise: AWESOMENESS. Just sheer win. Real London but with MAGIC always scores points and it’s done pretty well here, so Double Word Score and all that. He manages to make the magic seem… real, if that makes sense. He doesn’t go into any mechanics, and it’s all a bit wibbly, but it’s used and dealt with in a way that makes it seem just another part of life. Not everyday life, not real real life, but real in the way that, yes, if people could do magic, this is what would happen. And the cults. Some of them only get a throwaway remark or two, but some of the ones that get more of a look in are hilarious. I know I said it was a book that took itself quite seriously, but that doesn’t stop it being funny (what?). I won’t spoil, but one of the cults that gets a bit of limelight is both hilarious and awful. And distressingly easy to visualise. And would, now I come to think of it, make some terrifying-yet-somehow-brilliant Hallowe’en costumery. If I did the whole fancy dress thing. And if I were prepared to maybe have to explain what the hell. But anyway. Mental-visually, pretty damn awesome. And very diverse. The book covers, often in very quick snatches, a lot of different sorts of magic. I ended up coming across them and reaaaaally hoping maybe this one, just this one, would come up again so I could see him doing a bit more with it because it sounds like such a brilliant idea. And, in all honesty, I found the Londonmancers a bit weak and un-awesome. I kind of wish there were some way to use some of their plot time for someone else. But that would not be plot-good, so the answer is obviously appendices. Just an excuse for him to have made up some backstory for all the silly little things he invented along the way of writing the story, basically.

And lastly the writing. As I said with the City and the City, the writing is pretty good. That hasn’t changed at all. It’s still really nice prose, and still works well with the genre and all that. He doesn’t do anything clever or fancy really, which is great because you don’t get drawn away from the plot and all the clever and fun he comes up with, but equally it doesn’t get in the way by being soul-destroyingly awful. It’s just nice and well-written, basically.

I am, in all honesty, thoroughly shocked by how much I like this book. When I put down the City and the City, I could not see myself ever being interested in reading another of his books. But here it is, a really really good read. And yes, part of that is because it is a whole other genre and actually fantasy and everything, but even so, a lot of it, style-wise, is not so different. There’s a lot of points of comparison I can find between the two. I think the only reason the City and the City fares so badly is because it feels like it can’t decide what it is. And I think if I went back now, having read this, and reread it, I might actually enjoy it. So well done Kraken for totally changing my mind about your author, and even about his other books. Awesome stuff.

*Slightly less brilliant than it could be, however, as I read some of the book while I was ill. The last thing you want to fuel your mad illness dreams is squid-gods and origami-murderers. I had some really freaky nightmares for a couple of days. Also still not entirely certain how much of the last third was really on the page or just in my head, but that doesn’t seem to have affected how I think about the book, so we’ll ignore it for now.

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About readerofelse

A student of a redundant, useless and thoroughly interesting subject and reader of many books, particularly fantasy, science fiction and plenty else besides.
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One Response to Kraken – China Miéville

  1. Ignatius says:

    As said before really glad you enjoyed it, I recall on finishing myself thinking it seemed like your sort of book. As I think I mentioned in the recommendation I don’t believe Mieville really is a character sort of author, there are books where he puts more detail in than others, The Scar for example being one of his more charactery books, but they’re never going to compete with the best and it’s not a selling point of his books.

    What he is is an idea and settings author and that’s where I think he really shines, I can’t think of an author currently doing such interesting and awesome settings currently writing. The London of Kraken really shines, what I’m most surprised about/enjoyed is how despite him seeming to throw everything and the kitchen sink in it manages to hold together so well. As to his others the variety is very impressive, from Bas-Lag his non-standard industrial fantasy setting where Perdido Street Station, The Scar and Iron Council are set to TC&TC’s Besźel and Ul Qoma to the world of Embassytown which focuses on a race based around the idea of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. While there are certainly common themes to his work, you can see his socialism appearing in most, each gives you something new to explore and it’s a pity you probably happened on the one which is least you first.

    Essentially to summarise the rambling I’m just echoing what you’ve said above, Characters so-so, World awesome, and I’ll hope you enjoy more of his work.

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