The word “inventive” describes China Miéville’s Kraken the way “okay-looking” describes Halle Berry or Charlize Theron. Mr. Miéville turns London into a living creature whose viscera can be read, and every character within it has some magical power or other (“knack”), including the cops. The inventions continue and continue: once the dead giant squid is beamed out of the science museum, tank and all, the action ratchets ever upward, leading to talking tattoos, a London embassy belonging to and occupied by the sea, a haruspex who reads London’s future when part of its pavement is dug up (and the city bleeds), and much, much more.
We view these strange events through the eyes of Billy Harrow, a curator at the museum where the giant squid (the “kraken”) had been on display. He finds himself allied to Dane, one of the true believers of the kraken cult. While hunting down the missing animal (one god among a panoply in this wild premise), they snoop for clues, run for their lives, gain powers, and interact with all manner of creative peril. At length, all understand that the end of the world threatens, and Billy has to try to save the day.
This is truly a tour de force of invention by Miéville, that most inventive of novelists. This particular alternate universe features powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men – and everyone has them. The interest comes from the utterly endless variety the author has conjured up, and I’ll tell you, I was exhausted by it at the end. The breathless climax is a rewarding bit, consistently far-fetched and outré as all that has gone before. This is a highly ambitious piece, exceeding 500 pages, and never once are you allowed to catch your breath. Mr. Miéville charges through it all, and keeps us following along, wondering what impossible thing will happen next, and how it will be accomplished. Charge in, and get ready to have your mind stretched.