Over the past year or so, the internet has been insisting that I read something by China Mieville. I finally relented and decided to pick up this 2011 work on the strength of some reviews I came across and its description as “one of the strangest, funniest, and flat-out scariest books you will read.”
The book centers on Billy Harrow, a curator at the Natural History Museum in roughly present day London. Billy specializes in preservation and one of his most recent efforts, a massive forty-foot squid, has become one of the museum’s premier attractions. We meet him when he discovers, while leading a tour group, that his prized specimen has disappeared without a trace, display case and all. As the investigation into the missing squid gets underway, Billy finds that he has become a person of interest for the police; or at least to the detectives from the mysterious Fundamentalist and Sect-Related Crime Unit. Before long the situation escalates beyond Billy’s wildest imagination, as he is dragged into a side of London he never even suspected to exist; an occult metropolis hiding in plain sight populated with magical persons, supernatural creatures, and Kraken-worshiping cultists, all of whom are bracing themselves for the coming apocalypse.
I liked this book, though it was not without its flaws. There were times I thought the story was muddled and difficult to follow, and other points where I thought it felt either rushed or aimless. Also worth noting, the book doesn’t quite live up the superlatives used to advertise it. While it did have its strange and funny moments, it was not in the slightest bit scary or suspenseful. If a book called Kraken teases horror, I feel like that sets a certain expectation; one this work did not deliver on. Sure people die, and it dealt with the potential end of the world, but this was by no means a dark or scary book. Or maybe I’m just not the audience those appeals were intended to lure in.
Putting that aside, these criticisms ultimately didn’t interfere significantly with my overall enjoyment of the story. It was fun riding along with Billy as he got swept up in the events of the novel, and I remained interested in the characters and plot twists even when things got a bit confusing. There were plenty of humorous moments along the way: the colorful language of Collingswood, the peculiarities of a familiars strike, an amusing revelation about Billy, and yet another reason to never, ever use transporter technology (as if that scene in Star Trek: The Motion Picture and the delightfully grim songs in the Hitchhiker’s Guide weren’t enough already). The book was just fine for what it was, but don’t quite get why such a big deal seems to have been made about it.