Kraken [NOOK Book]

Overview

BONUS: This edition contains an excerpt from China Miéville’s Embassytown.

With this outrageous new novel, China Miéville has written one of the strangest, funniest, and flat-out scariest books you will read this—or any other—year. The London that comes to life in Kraken is a weird metropolis awash in secret currents of myth and magic, where criminals, police, cultists, and ...
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Kraken

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Overview

BONUS: This edition contains an excerpt from China Miéville’s Embassytown.

With this outrageous new novel, China Miéville has written one of the strangest, funniest, and flat-out scariest books you will read this—or any other—year. The London that comes to life in Kraken is a weird metropolis awash in secret currents of myth and magic, where criminals, police, cultists, and wizards are locked in a war to bring about—or prevent—the End of All Things.

In the Darwin Centre at London’s Natural History Museum, Billy Harrow, a cephalopod specialist, is conducting a tour whose climax is meant to be the Centre’s prize specimen of a rare Architeuthis duxbetter known as the Giant Squid. But Billy’s tour takes an unexpected turn when the squid suddenly and impossibly vanishes into thin air.

As Billy soon discovers, this is the precipitating act in a struggle to the death between mysterious but powerful forces in a London whose existence he has been blissfully ignorant of until now, a city whose denizens—human and otherwise—are adept in magic and murder.

There is the Congregation of God Kraken, a sect of squid worshippers whose roots go back to the dawn of humanity—and beyond. There is the criminal mastermind known as the Tattoo, a merciless maniac inked onto the flesh of a hapless victim. There is the FSRC—the Fundamentalist and Sect-Related Crime Unit—a branch of London’s finest that fights sorcery with sorcery. There is Wati, a spirit from ancient Egypt who leads a ragtag union of magical familiars. There are the Londonmancers, who read the future in the city’s entrails. There is Grisamentum, London’s greatest wizard, whose shadow lingers long after his death. And then there is Goss and Subby, an ageless old man and a cretinous boy who, together, constitute a terrifying—yet darkly charismatic—demonic duo.

All of them—and others—are in pursuit of Billy, who inadvertently holds the key to the missing squid, an embryonic god whose powers, properly harnessed, can destroy all that is, was, and ever shall be.
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Editorial Reviews

Sara Sklaroff
While Miéville is a bit prone to cephalopodan silliness…it's great fun to watch the pleasure he takes in wordsmithing. At more than 500 pages, Kraken is not a particularly disciplined work, but it's still an entertaining twist on this venerable tentacled sci-fi trope—think Jules Verne, Lovecraft…
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
British fantasist Miéville mashes up cop drama, cults, popular culture, magic, and gods in a Lovecraftian New Weird caper sure to delight fans of Perdido Street Station and The City & the City. When a nine-meter-long dead squid is stolen, tank and all, from a London museum, curator Billy Harrow finds himself swept up in a world he didn't know existed: one of worshippers of the giant squid, animated golems, talking tattoos, and animal familiars on strike. Forced on the lam with a renegade kraken cultist and stalked by cops and crazies, Billy finds his quest to recover the squid sidelined by questions as to what force may now be unleashed on an unsuspecting world. Even Miéville's eloquent prose can't conceal the meandering, bewildering plot, but his fans will happily swap linearity for this dizzying whirl of outrageous details and fantastic characters. (July)
Kirkus Reviews
New, hefty urban fantasy with a London setting-sort of-from Mieville (The City & The City, 2009, etc.). At the Darwin Centre in London's Natural History Museum, curator Billy Harrow shepherds a tour group toward the center's prize specimen, a giant squid that Billy himself helped prepare. Alas-squid, tank, preservative and all, have vanished! Whodunit? How? To Billy's disbelief, investigating police officer Kath Collingswood professes to fight sorcery with sorcery. But, as Billy will quickly learn but more slowly accept, the teleportation of the huge squid is but an opening gambit in a struggle to the death between shadowy magical gangs lurking in an unseen London whose denizens, human and otherwise, are adept in techniques unknown to science and unsuspected by orthodox Londoners. This colorful, swirling, often arresting, equally often ploddingly didactic backdrop involves the squid-worshipping Congregation of God Kraken and renegade squiddy Dane Parnell-he tries to shield Billy from Goss and Subby, terrifying, sadistic wizards sent by the Tattoo, a maniacal, disembodied gangster now inked into the flesh of a hapless victim by Grisamentum, London's greatest dead wizard. Meanwhile, the city's magical familiars-cats, beetles, you-name-it-led by ancient Egyptian tomb-spirit Wati, are striking for better pay and benefits. Somebody or something, ho-hum, intends to destroy the world. But less than a hundred pages in, the lack of a plot becomes a serious drag, and Mieville doesn't seem to grasp that absurd does not mean funny. Likely reaction: raised eyebrows, head-scratching bewilderment. Agent: Mic Cheetham/Mic Cheetham Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345521859
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/29/2010
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 104,792
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

China Mieville
China Miéville is the author of King Rat; Perdido Street Station, winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the British Fantasy Award; The Scar, winner of the Locus Award and the British Fantasy Award; Iron Council, winner of the Locus Award and the Arthur C. Clarke Award; Looking for Jake, a collection of short stories; and Un Lun Dun, his New York Times bestselling book for younger readers. He lives and works in London.


From the Hardcover edition.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

An everyday doomsayer in sandwich-board abruptly walked away from what over the last several days had been his pitch, by the gates of a museum. The sign on his front was an old-school prophecy of the end: the one bobbing on his back read forget it.

Inside, a man walked through the big hall, past a double stair and a giant skeleton, his steps loud on the marble. Stone animals watched him. "Right then," he kept saying.

His name was Billy Harrow. He glanced at the great fabricated bones and nodded. It looked as if he was saying hello. It was a little after eleven on a morning in October. The room was filling up. A group waited for him by the entrance desk, eyeing each other with polite shyness.

There were two men in their twenties with geek-chic haircuts. A woman and man barely out of teens teased each other. She was obviously indulging him with this visit. There was an older couple, and a father in his thirties holding his young son. "Look, that's a monkey," he said. He pointed at animals carved in vines on the museum pillars. "And you see that lizard?"

The boy peeped. He looked at the bone apatosaurus that Billy had seemed to greet. Or maybe, Billy thought, he was looking at the glyptodon beyond it. All the children had a favourite inhabitant of the Natural History Museum's first hall, and the glyptodon, that half-globe armadillo giant, had been Billy's.

Billy smiled at the woman who dispensed tickets, and the guard behind her. "This them?" he said. "Right then, everyone. Shall we do this thing?"

He cleaned his glasses and blinked while he was doing it, replicating a look and motion an ex had once told him was adorable. He was a little shy of thirty and looked younger: he had freckles, and not enough stubble to justify "Bill." As he got older, Billy suspected, he would, DiCaprio-like, simply become like an increasingly wizened child.

Billy's black hair was tousled in halfheartedly fashionable style. He wore a not-too-hopeless top, cheap jeans. When he had first started at the centre, he had liked to think that he was unexpectedly cool-looking for such a job. Now he knew that he surprised no one, that no one expected scientists to look like scientists anymore.

"So you're all here for the tour of the Darwin Centre," he said. He was acting as if he thought they were present to investigate a whole research site, to look at the laboratories and offices, the filing, the cabinets of paperwork. Rather than to see one and only the one thing within the building.

"I'm Billy," he said. "I'm a curator. What that means is I do a lot of the cataloguing and preserving, stuff like that. I've been here awhile. When I first came here I wanted to specialise in marine molluscs--know what a mollusc is?" he asked the boy, who nodded and hid. "Snails, that's right." Mollusca had been the subject of his master's thesis.

"Alright, folks." He put his glasses on. "Follow me. This is a working environment, so please keep the noise down, and I beg you not to touch anything. We've got caustics, toxins, all manner of horrible stuff all over the place."

One of the young men started to say, "When do we see--?" Billy raised his hand.

"Can I just . . . ?" he said. "Let me explain about what'll happen when we're in there." Billy had evolved his own pointless idio-superstitions, according to one of which it was bad luck for anyone to speak the name of what they were all there for, before they reached it.

"I'm going to show you a bunch of the places we work," he said lamely. "Any questions, you can ask me at the end: we're a little bit time constrained. Let's get the tour done first."

No curator or researcher was obliged to perform this guide-work. But many did. Billy no longer grumbled when it was his turn.

They went out and through the garden, approaching the Darwin with a building site on one side and the brick filigrees of the Natural History Museum on the other.

"No photos please," Billy said. He did not care if they obeyed: his obligation was to repeat the rule. "This building here opened in 2002," he said. "And you can see we're expanding. We'll have a new building in 2008. We've got seven floors of wet specimens in the Darwin Centre. That means stuff in Formalin."

Everyday hallways led to a stench. "Jesus," someone muttered.

"Indeed," said Billy. "This is called the dermestarium." Through interior windows there were steel containers like little coffins. "This is where we clean up skeletons. Get rid of all the gunk on them. Dermestes maculatus."

A computer screen by the boxes was showing some disgusting salty-looking fish being eaten by insect swarms. "Eeurgh," someone said.

"There's a camera in the box," said Billy. "Hide beetles is their English name. They go through everything, just leave bones behind."

The boy grinned and tugged his father's hand. The rest of the group smiled, embarrassed. Flesh-eating bugs: sometimes life really was a B-movie.

Billy noticed one of the young men. He wore a past-it suit, a shabby-genteel outfit odd for someone young. He wore a pin on his lapel, a design like a long-armed asterisk, two of the spokes ending in curls. The man was taking notes. He was filling the pad he carried at a great rate.

A taxonomiser by inclination as well as profession, Billy had decided there were not so many kinds of people who took this tour. There were children: mostly young boys, shy and beside themselves with excitement, and vastly knowledgeable about what they saw. There were their parents. There were sheepish people in their twenties, as geeky-eager as the kids. There were their girlfriends and boyfriends, performing patience. A few tourists on an unusual byway.

And there were the obsessives.

They were the only people who knew more than the young children. Sometimes they did not speak: sometimes they would interrupt Billy's explanations with too-loud questions, or correct him on scientific detail with exhausting fussy anxiety. He had noticed more of such visitors than usual in the last several weeks.

"It's like late summer brings out the weirdos," Billy had said to his friend Leon, a few nights back, as they drank at a Thames pub. "Someone came in all Starfleet badges today. Not on my shift, sadly."

"Fascist," Leon had said. "Why are you so prejudiced against nerds?"

"Please," Billy said. "That would be a bit self-hating, wouldn't it?"

"Yeah, but you pass. You're like, you're in deep cover," Leon said. "You can sneak out of the nerd ghetto and hide the badge and bring back food and clothes and word of the outside world."

"Mmm, tasteful."

"Alright," Billy said as colleagues passed him. "Kath," he said to an ichthyologist; "Brendan," to another curator, who answered him, "Alright Tubular?"

"Onward please," said Billy. "And don't worry, we're getting to the good stuff."

Tubular? Billy could see one or two of his escortees wondering if they had misheard.

The nickname resulted from a drinking session in Liverpool with colleagues, back in his first year at the centre. It was the annual conference of the professional curatorial society. After a day of talks on methodologies and histories of preservation, on museum schemes and the politics of display, the evening's wind-down had started with polite how-did-you-get-into-this?, turned into everyone at the bar one by one talking about their childhoods, these meanderings, in boozy turn, becoming a session of what someone had christened Biography Bluff. Everyone had to cite some supposedly extravagant fact about themselves--they once ate a slug, they'd been part of a foursome, they tried to burn their school down, and so on--the truth of which the others would then brayingly debate.

Billy had straight-faced claimed that he had been the result of the world's first-ever successful in vitro fertilisation, but that he had been disavowed by the laboratory because of internal politics and a question mark over issues of consent, which was why the official laurel had gone to someone else a few months after his birth. Interrogated about details, he had with drunken effortlessness named doctors, the location, a minor complication of the procedure. But before bets were made and his reveal made, the conversation had taken a sudden turn and the game had been abandoned. It was two days later, back in London, before a lab-mate asked him if it was true.

"Absolutely," Billy had said, in an expressionless teasing way that meant either "of course," or "of course not." He had stuck by that response since. Though he doubted anyone believed him, the nickname "Test-tube" and variants were still used.

They passed another guard: a big, truculent man, all shaved head and muscular fatness. He was some years older than Billy, named Dane Something, from what Billy had overheard. Billy nodded and tried to meet his eye, as he always did. Dane Whatever, as he always did, ignored the little greeting, to Billy's disproportionate resentment.

As the door swung shut, though, Billy saw Dane acknowledge someone else. The guard nodded momentarily at the intense young man with the lapel pin, the obsessive whose eyes flickered in the briefest response. Billy saw that, in surprise--and just before the door closed between them--Dane looking at him.

Dane's acquaintance did not meet his eyes. "You feel it get cool?" Billy said, shaking his head. He sped them through time-release doors. "To stop evaporation. We have to be careful about fire. Because, you know, there's a fair old bit of alcohol in here, so . . ." With his hands he made a soft explosion.

The visitors stopped still. They were in a specimen maze. Ranked intricacies. Kilometres of shelves and jars. In each was a motionless floating animal. Even sound sounded bottled suddenly, as if something had put a lid on it all.

The specimens mindlessly concentrated, some posing with their own colourless guts. Flatfish in browning tanks. Jars of huddled mice gone sepia, grotesque mouthfuls like pickled onions. There were sports with excess limbs, foetuses in arcane shapes. They were as carefully shelved as books. "See?" Billy said.

One more door and they would be with what they were there to see. Billy knew from repeated experience how this would go.

When they entered the tank room, the chamber at the heart of the Darwin Centre, he would give the visitors a moment without prattle. The big room was walled with more shelves. There were hundreds more bottles, from those chest-high down to those the size of a glass of water. All of them contained lugubrious animal faces. It was a Linnaean decor; species clined into each other. There were steel bins, pulleys that hung like vines. No one would notice. Everyone would be staring at the great tank in the centre of the room.

This was what they came for, that pinkly enormous thing. For all its immobility; the wounds of its slow-motion decay, the scabbing that clouded its solution; despite its eyes being shrivelled and lost; its sick colour; despite the twist in its skein of limbs, as if it were being wrung out. For all that, it was what they were there for.

It would hang, an absurdly massive tentacled sepia event. Architeuthis dux. The giant squid.

It's eight-metres and sixty-two centimetres long," Billy would say at last. "Not the largest we've ever seen, but no tiddler either." The visitors would circle the glass. "They found it in 2004, off the Falkland Islands.

"It's in a saline-Formalin mix. That tank was made by the same people that do the ones for Damien Hirst. You know, the one he put the shark in?" Any children would be leaning in to the squid, as close as they could get.

"Its eyes would have been twenty-three or twenty-four centimetres across," Billy would say. People would measure with their fingers, and children opened their own eyes mimicry-wide. "Yeah, like plates. Like dinner plates." He said it every time, every time thinking of Hans Christian Andersen's dog. "But it's very hard to keep eyes fresh, so they're gone. We injected it with the same stuff that's in the tank to stop it rotting from the inside.

"It was alive when it was caught."

That would mean gasps all over again. Visions of an army of coils, twenty thousand leagues, an axe-fight against a blasphemy from the deep below. A predatory meat cylinder, rope limbs unrolling, finding a ship's rail with ghastly prehensility.

It had been nothing like that. A giant squid at the surface was a weak, disoriented, moribund thing. Horrified by air, crushed by its own self, it had probably just wheezed through its siphon and palsied, a gel mass of dying. That did not matter. Its breach was hardly reducible to however it had actually been.

The squid would stare with its handspan empty sockets and Billy would answer familiar questions--"It's name is Archie." "Because of Architeuthis. Get it?" "Yes, even though we think it's a girl."

When it had come, wrapped in ice and preservative cloth, Billy had helped unswaddle it. It was he who had massaged its dead flesh, kneading the tissue to feel where preservatives had spread. He had been so busy on it it was as if he had not noticed it, quite, somehow. It was only when they were done and finished, and it was tanked, that it had hit him, had really got him. He had watched refraction make it shift as he approached or moved away, a magic motionless motion.

It wasn't a type-specimen, one of those bottled Platonic essences that define everything like them. Still, the squid was complete, and it would never be cut.

Other specimens in the room would eventually snare a bit of visitor attention. A ribbon-folded oarfish, an echidna, bottles of monkeys. And there at the end of the room was a glass-fronted cabinet containing thirteen small jars.

"Anyone know what these are?" Billy would say. "Let me show you."

They were distinguished by the browning ink and antique angularity of the hand that had labelled them. "These were collected by someone quite special," Billy would say to any children. "Can you read that word? Anyone know what that means? 'The Beagle'?"

Some people got it. If they did they would gape at the subcollection that sat there unbelievably on an everyday shelf. Little animals collected, euthanized, preserved and catalogued on a journey to the South American seas, two centuries before, by the young naturalist Charles Darwin.

"That's his writing," Billy would say. "He was young, he hadn't sorted out his really big notions when he found these. These are part of what gave him the whole idea. They're not finches, but these are what got the whole thing started. It's the anniversary of his trip soon."

Very rarely, someone would try to argue with him over Darwin's insight. Billy would not have that debate.

Even those thirteen glass eggs of evolutionary theory, and all the centuries’-worth of tea-coloured crocodiles and deep-sea absurdities, evinced only a little interest next to the squid. Billy knew the importance of that Darwin stuff, whether visitors did or not. No matter. Enter that room and you breached a Schwarzschild radius of something not canny, and that cephalopod corpse was the singularity.

That, Billy knew, was how it would go. But this time when he opened the door he stopped, and stared for several seconds. The visitors came in behind him, stumbling past his immobility. They waited, unsure of what they were being shown.

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. 


From the Hardcover edition.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 163 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(33)

4 Star

(55)

3 Star

(44)

2 Star

(13)

1 Star

(18)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 164 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 5, 2010

    Weird In More Ways Than One

    China Mieville has constructed a loving homage to H.P. Lovecraft, right down to the odd characters, mysterious beastlies, and awkward phrasing. Dialogue and sentence construction take backseats to the concepts, though every few pages there is a laugh-outloud line that will keep the reader entertained--but not, necessarily, engaged. KRAKEN reminds me a lot of Warren Ellis's fiction debut, ONE CROOKED VEIN, another "weird" book that seemed to run off the rails at times. A reviewer in the UK put it best: "Less is more where weirdness is concerned." Readers will either embrace the madness or go mad trying to make it through KRAKEN.

    14 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 31, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    wild urban fantasy

    In London's Natural History Museum, curator Billy Harrow escorts a tour into the Darwin Center where a giant squid resides in a special tank prepared by him. Billy is proud of what he and most experts consider the top attraction of the Darwin center and perhaps the entire museum. When he and the tour group reach their destination, Billy is stunned to find it empty as that is not possible. What is more eerie is that not just the squid is gone, but the tank and preservative too.

    Investigating police officer Kath Collingswood explains magical teleportation to a shocked Billy. He has now entered the realm of sorcery where Kath explains the only way to fight back is with sorcery. As Billy learns more about a part of London he and most residents never knew existed, the Congregation of God Kraken worship the giant squid while one of their flock Dane Parnell tries to keep curious Billy safe from two nasty wizards who get off with torture. Sent by their leader Tattoo the insane gangster survived sans body of his own as a tattoo put on the flesh of a wretched soul thanks to the greatest dead wizard. As the curator becomes more acquainted with the other London, city's familiars are refusing to perform as they picket for better pay, improved working conditions and health care.

    Kraken is a wild over the top of Big Ben urban fantasy starring a likable curator, a fascinating dedicated cop-mage, and a vision of London that feels like something from Alice in Wonderland or Simon R. Green. Although the plot meanders much more than a Hyde Street Park speaker, and at times is overwhelmed by the paranormal antics throughout the city, fans of China Mieville will enjoy his jocular lampooning of the police procedural-amateur sleuth in an urban fantasy environs.

    Harriet Klausner

    7 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 27, 2010

    A long unfulfilling read

    Kept waiting for the story to pick up at some point. It was barely good enough not to abandon altogether, but it was painful to wade through 500+ pages to find out: how it all ended, if any of it made sense (yes) and whether I cared (no). Would have given it 2 stars if it was 300 pages.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 17, 2010

    This book stinks

    Reading this book is a waste of time, author should find a new job.

    2 out of 40 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 15, 2012

    Too Weird to Enjoy

    Very hard to follow. Reader has no frame of reference with which to make sense of the story line,and auther not very good about developing insight for the reader. I stopped reading at page 160. Just wasnt enjoying it enough to continue. I found it a laboreous and non-entertaining read.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 5, 2011

    Best book I've read in a long while.

    Brilliant story. Very deep story,but not for kids. Highly recommend this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 7, 2011

    An acquired taste

    This is a good book, with levels of lore so deep that it brings me back to the days when I was reading Harry Potter, sticking all of my mental capacity into prying open the magnificent world of wizarding. Even though I enjoyed the read, it is not for everybody. If you have a child that you don't want reading lots of slang and cursing, then you probably shouldn't give this to them. It is also a very complicated world Mieville has opened up, and that makes it a complicated read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 30, 2011

    Great book.

    This book starts fast and kept me interested with the fascinating setting. However there are some chapters that tend to drag on. Even with those hickups it is a fantastic story!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 2, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Too Complicated. Will Read At Another Time. Maybe

    After reading the synopsis I was super excited and really looking forward to this book. It was so overwhelming with all the different kinds of characters, various factions, and bizarre action (real London/alternative London) that I found it hard to understand what was going on, so I would re-read what I just read. Then I was just reading it to simply enjoy the story. Then I was just reading the words not focusing, until after some time I was asking myself what I had just read. It has a great and interesting start with Billy a museum curator being sought after by the magic-wielding Krakenists and being chased by the dangerous pair Goss and Subby. But by half way through the book, (at the end of Part 2), I simply could not go on. It's rare that I am not able to finish a book, so that is saying something for me. (The Historian, Icehenge, and this book Kraken are the only ones I've never been able to finish reading.) I realize that some may like this book; I even expect others who've read some of China Miéville's other books may have a one up on me. I do not recommend this book, because it was too difficult to get into the story, stay focused on what's happening, and it's too dry and boring. I give it 1 ½ stars instead of just 1star because I didn't outright hate it. However, I am intrigued by what one of my favorite authors had to say about Kraken. Terry Brooks Reviews: Kraken April 5, 2011 ~ T.B. Rating: 5 of 5 stars This month I am recommending a book that has been out for a year or so, China Miéville's Kraken. No one writes books like China. Some have said this is a good thing because China's prose is dense and complex and his language might require that you keep a dictionary close at hand. But this is a really wonderful, compelling story. It possesses elements of science fiction, fantasy, horror and myth, and it is impossible to describe here. But I will take a shot at it anyway. Kraken is an end of the world story centered around a stolen Kraken corpse, a Kraken worshipping cult, strange collections of magic wielders both good and bad, a paranormal police unit, a gaggle of odd heroes and a couple of really terrible villains. It reminded me of Stephen King, among others. You have to work at this book, but even given that I had to put some effort into reading it I could not put it down. It builds as it goes and thunders to a surprisingly satisfying ending. It made me envy China's storytelling skills, and that doesn't happen very often.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2014

    Big fan but prefer his other books.

    Embassytown may be one of my favorite books evrt but this was was just a little too unchained for me. Still a good read.

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    Posted August 16, 2010

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    Posted August 5, 2010

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    Posted June 13, 2011

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