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3.3 out of 5 stars
3.3 out of 5 stars
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on 10 February 2017
I couldn't be more happy that I finally, ignored the negative reviews and read this for myself. It is a fantastic book, bubbling and crackling with imagination and humour. The beautiful writing and ideas touched both my and heart and imagination, manifold and I feel enriched, happy and inspired from having read it. I`m not qualified to give a critique but I hope others will ignore the negative comments and enjoy the ride. I concede, it's not as serious as some of the well loved others...it's a different book though and a clever, fun, packed one, at that. Overflowing with tremendous imagination and humour. Read it you should.
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This book seems to divide opinion. I thought it was great, but I see from the reviews that others have compared it disfavourably to other "London magic" books like A Madness of Angels (Matthew Swift 1). Frankly I think that's almost an insult to Miéville: "Madness" is OK but it's bit laboured - this is magnificent. But there you go.

Anyway, the story - Billy Harrow has a problem. His prize giant squid - curated with care, preserved in a glass tank and shown to carefully selected tour parties at the Natural History Museum in London - has gone missing. Impossible, but true.

But that's not Billy's real problem. Unfortunately, everyone seems to think that Billy knows something about the disappearance. There's Kath Collingswood of the Metropolitan Police's cult and occult crime squad. There's the Church of God Kraken, who worship said squid. There's the Tattoo (don't ask). Then there's Goss and Subby (don't ask, PLEASE - you won't want to know). In short, a whole weird other side to London, composed of criminals, "knackers" (those who have a knack, i.e. magicians of various sorts), cults and heretics - they all think Billy knows something. And since all prophecies suggest the world is about to burn - because of the squid - they all want to know what he knows. Billy needs to find out what he knows, before anyone finds him.

The story that emerges from this is a chase, or a quest, as Billy, helped by a few friends - Dane, a renegade from the CoGK, Wati, the spirit of an Egyptian tomb ornament become a union organiser for magical familiars, the Londonmancers (who carry out divination by delving into the entrails of the city) and Marge, who is almost normal (to begin with) - try to stay ahead of the pursuit, and the Law. It is variously gross, hilarious, touching, scary and thought provoking. The pace of the book barely lets up for a moment and though fairly long it really seems too short. I'd previously read Un Lun Dun by the same author to my son, and this is in some ways an adult version of the same thing, but it's also a kind of literalist version of Peter Ackroyd or Iain Sinclair, as the layers of London history and mystic geography come alive, and metaphor rules all (so, a key dropped and pressed into the tarmac of the street can "open the road" and by finding the right ink, you can rewrite the rules of the world).

Immensely entertaining, many stranded, a joy to read. In short, superb.
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on 17 August 2017
Too weird for me ...
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on 28 October 2016
Found this to be pretty tedious and trite. Reminded me of some Gaiman, just not as gripping.
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on 23 March 2017
Whatever else you can say about China Miéville he has an imagination. Boy, what an imagination. In his early novels, that imagination was allied to a strong sense of plot and a coherent construction. Unfortunately you can't really say the same for Kraken. The plot really resembles one long chase sequence, and concludes with an unnecessary twist that suggests that a lot of what came before doesn't really matter; It's as though Miéville, conscious of having perhaps the most extraordinary imagination in modern literature, feels he can let the rest take care of itself. It's the only one of his novels where I wished the end would come sooner. Pity
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on 11 May 2012
I was absolutely hooked for the first couple of chapters. The author's imagination is incredible and the originality was so compelling. I barely understood what was going on, but felt sure that all would become clear.

Halfway through I still had no idea what was going on, but decided to give the author the benefit of the doubt. It must be a technique he's using to help the reader empathise with the protagonist who also doesn't have a clue, I naively thought.

Now, having finished it, I only have the vaguest grasp of the plot and feel thoroughly disappointed.

The character of Billy Harrow was also lost about two-thirds of the way in, when he suddenly begins to understand, abandoning the poor confused reader. I found myself wishing that Collingswood was the main character instead as she was far more interesting.

Overall, a fantastic idea and so much potential, completely wasted by the author trying to pack in about 5 books worth of ideas into 1, and explaining nothing. I'm so disappointed.
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on 8 May 2010
China Mieville, I've always said, is a genius. I think I need to get that out of the way before I carry on with this review. He is possessed of the most toweringly wicked imagination, fearsome skills of characterisation and plot development and the ability to keep the reader on the edge of their seat, in my case, on occasion, literally. If I were sad enough to sit and write down my top 10 fiction books of all time, 'The City and the City', 'Perdido Street Station' and 'The Scar' would be somewhere amongst them. I've read his book of short stories, 'Looking for Jake', about five times now. And I hate short stories.

However, even genuises have their off-days, and that seems to be what's happened here. I say "seems" because I can only guess at what prompted Mieville to approach this book in the way he did. This is not China Mieville, this is Clive Barker on acid. It's completely mad, perhaps the result of a bet as to how much weirdness Mieville could cram into 400 pages.

The concept is promising, and indeed a short synopsis would sound equally appealing. Mieville's writing style, whilst an acquired taste due to the author's of chain-of-consciousness prose interspersed with quirky colloquialisms, is rich and beautifully delivered. There's humour too, and several laugh-out loud moments, the politically incorrect outbursts of the virtual retro police officers being a case in point. However, a few dozen pages into the novel things start to go bad and the key problem quickly becomes evident. This problem, in summary, is that anything can happen.

Mieville has created a world entirely without rules and without boundaries. This sounds exciting, especially bearing in mind the author's formidable powers of imagination, but what it actually does is rob the plot of all suspense. Virtually every character possesses a range of occult abilities so powerful, wide-reaching and diverse that no situation provides any type of challenge. Magical abilities, individuals and objects are created on demand, sometimes at the rate of several per page, apparently as a cheap method of furthering the plot.

How is item X, huge and heavy, transported from point A to point B? Well, that's tricky, a nice little puzzle for the reader... Actually, no, it's teleportation. Character X died so how come people are receiving messages from him? That's a tough one, let me think... Don't bother, he just returned from the dead. How do these two baddies enter a house without anybody seeing? I wonder, maybe they - Forget all that, it's easy, someone just folded them up into a tiny parcel and posted them through the letter box. Feeling cheated yet? OK, so how will this police officer find the information she needs from the crime scene? I get it, forget the clever stuff, let's go straight to the invisible flying cartoon pig that knows everything (I'm not joking). And so on and so forth. The sheer quantity of bizarre powers and impossible characters being introduced as the story progresses is on occasion so great that the reader finds themselves lost in a miasma of unconstrained weirdness where plot, characterisation and purpose are not so much secondary as completely lost in the confusion.

There were other problems with the book, not least the bizarrely bi-polar character development of our hero, Billy Harrow, yet in comparison to the anything-goes gung-ho plot-busting surrealism they were rendered almost moot.

Less is more, especially where weirdness is concerned, and I hope that Mieville's next novel, which I'm already looking forward to whatever it may be, bears witness to this ideology.

I still think he's a genius.
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VINE VOICEon 6 December 2010
I had been looking forward to reading this, and so when I got my Kindle, this was the first book I put on it.

Firstly, and this I assume only affects the Kindle version - the formatting of the book is very poor, with several words joined together in places, some minor spelling mistakes etc. The book was still readable though, so I've not marked it down for this.

I've read a couple of Mieville books now: Un Lun Dun, a very good story about a girl venturing through an alternative London; and King Rat, a modern retelling of The Pied Piper. I enjoyed both of these, but Kraken I found a lot harder to get into - the story moves at a fast pace for a short while, then drags around doing nothing for a larger chunk. It repeats this process until the final third, where it goes mostly for fast paced action which I enjoyed (even though some of it really didn't make much sense).

The idea of London being a centre of hidden/underground magic is not a new idea, and in my opinion has been done far better by Kate Griffin in A Madness of Angels (Matthew Swift 1) and The Midnight Mayor: Bk. 2: A Matthew Swift Novel (Matthew Swift 2).

I found I didn't really feel anything for the characters in this book, apart from Goss and Subby, who although I'm pretty sure I wasn't meant to like, I found the sections of the book centred around them were by far the most enjoyable. I think I would enjoy a book with these two as the main characters.

I still like Mieville, and I'll definitely read more of his work - but I'm not sure I could completely recommend this book.
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on 11 January 2013
In the same way that the Mounties always get their man, I always finish a book. But it's been a struggle...

I'd heard a lot of good things about Miéville, the best thing to happen to Brit scifi since Banks and so on, but I really have my doubts as to whether I'll read another. It's taken me six months. Not saying he's not imaginative, or that he can't turn a phrase, or that he can't draw a character with a couple of brief sentences: he can do all these things in spades. But his editor should have said "China, me old china. The plot. It's rubbish. Try again."

This book is like reading one of Terry Pratchet's City Guards Discworld novels with every single mote of humour and every last joke expunged (apart from things that you can tell are supposed to be funny that don't quite work), but with half the plot density and spread out over double the page count. The characters are defined in a couple of pithy sentences but never get any more detailed, even the protagonist, who you know no better at the end of the book than you do by the end of the first page. And a deus ex machina ending, followed by another deus ex machina ending. I suppose, given the context, this may be satire on deus ex machina endings, but it's poor reward for the reader's efforts.

Two stars? Got to give him something for imagination.
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on 19 June 2010
I was wondering when China first started writing this. I discovered him with 'Perdido Street Station' and read on from there, I read King Rat after 'The City and the City' and noticed his maturing as a writer. Reading Kraken, over ages, believe me,I wanted to put this book down so many times I can't tell you, but I'm a fan, so I stuck with it. Seems to me that either his Editor has said 'You'll make more money if you dumb down and get on the Gaiman train' , or this was the book after King Rat.
There are of course the Marxist underlays and the quiet jokes to the knowing, but my biggest complaint is that I felt a little bit insulted by this, there is plagerism (and that is an opinion, not an accusation) and the general impression that he wasn't really trying.
I saw England play Algeria last night and felt the same way.
Personally, I blame the publisher, I read Alistair Reynolds 'Terminal World' and felt the same way.
Don't force our greatest writers to churn out pulp, I'll wait for the masterpiece.
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