Kraken by China Miéville (New York: Del Rey, 2010. 509 pp)

China Miéville is the author of several notable novels, including King Rat, Perdido Street Station, The Scar, Iron Council, and Un Lun Dun. He describes his own work as “weird fiction.” He teaches creative writing at Warwick University, and is active in the Socialist Workers Party in his home country of England.

Lost in a Book 

Getting lost in a novel can be rare. I still remember as a child reading one of the first books I chose to read on my own, though I wish I remembered what book it was. The characters seemed to burst off the page, and I became an avid reader from that point on. In Kraken, China Miéville manages to make a story burst off the page in a strong story of urban magical realism. Though I got lost in his story, I also seemed to get literally lost in where the author was trying to go at times. In this story, a kraken (giant squid) is stolen, and an amazing Dan Brown-esque adventure ensues.

A Squid is Stolen

Billy Harrow, our protagonist, is the curator of The Darwin Center, part of London’s Natural History museum. While on his normal tour schedule of the mollusk exhibit, he is disturbed to find that the prize of the exhibit, a preserved giant squid is stolen.

“The centre of the room was empty. All the jars looked over the scene of a crime. The nine-metre tank, the thousands of gallons of brine-Formalin, the dead giant squid itself were gone” (10).

A Cult Emerges 


Photo by Quest

An urban fantasy unveils as Kraken continues, where a magical underbelly emerges alongside modern technology. With the disappearance of this specimen, a mysterious group is strangely vexed that the giant squid is missing. This group worships the giant squid as god, and reveres Billy Harrow as its acolyte, as he’s tended to it for some years now.

“His squid had been a relic in a reliquary. ‘This is kraken year zero…this is Anno Teuthis. We’re in the end times. What d’you think’s been going on? You think it’s just bloody chance that when you bring god up and treat it as you do, the world suddenly starts ending? Why do you think we kept coming to see? Why do you think we had someone on the inside?…We had to know. We had to watch. We had to protect it too, find out what was going on. We knew something was going to happen. You realise the reason you had a kraken to work on is because in roaring it rose and on the surface died?’” (98).

Because Billy had touched the body of god in the mind of the mysterious group, kept it safe, and preserved it against time itself, he ushered in the Anno Teuthis, a phrase meaning “the end of the world.” Not only is there a religious cult that worships the giant squid, but Billy also encounters weird ghosts from the television series Star Trek, a Sect-Related Crime Unit from the Metropolitan Police, and other strange phenomena like Waiti, a spirit from ancient Egypt who leads a group of magicians.

A Magical Urban Fantasy 

All of these strange happenings in the plot make for a page-turning read. But, after a while, I felt a little lost. Page after page, a new fantastical incident occurs, and it’s easy to get lost. Billy floats around in a world that is completely strange, involved in some sort of Kantian, duty-bound magical system. But, Billy rolls with the punches as his investigation gets kraken (pun certainly intended). His unassuming nature keeps him incredibly endearing as he fights the crime lord Tattoo and his demonic undead henchmen, Gross and Stubby.

A Literary-Induced Dream

I was given this novel as a gift by my friend Eric, the same one who recommended I read The Island of the Day Before by Umberto Eco. This novel wasn’t what I expected. At all. In short, Kraken could be defined as humorous madness, a literary-induced dream, and quite a different read for my normal fare. I think being completely lost in a new literary world is a rare occurrence, and I’m thankful that my friend recommended it to me.

All in all, this novel ends up like a magical fantasy a la The Da Vinci Code. Though the novel was complex and strange, I found myself entranced by this extremely different reading. My thoughts are if you liked the mystery and the clue-following found in The Da Vinci Code, and you can handle some weirdness, Kraken is most certainly for you.

Verdict: 3.5 out of 5

Posted by: Andrew Jacobson

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