Friday, October 29, 2010

Audiobook Review: Kraken

(This review contains no significant spoilers.)

The Setup

Kraken: An Anatomy is the most recent novel from China Miéville. The author has stated that he wants to write a novel in every genre. This book is firmly in the urban fantasy genre, though it is also a dark comedy. Yes, comedy in a Miéville book. Seriously.

The plot is kicked off when the preserved carcass of a giant squid, Architeuthis dux, is stolen from a London museum of natural history. The squid's curator, Billy Harrow, finds himself sucked into a hidden world of exotic religions and magical gangsters.

What I Liked

  • The universe. Once again, Miéville creates a complex and richly detailed world in this novel.
  • The plot. The story is interesting and moves along quickly.
  • The characters. Dane Parnell and Cath Collingswood, in particular, are fun.
  • The cults. The varied and various niche religions, most notably the central Church of God Kraken, are entertaining.
  • The comedy. The jokes in this story are played very dead-pan. Given that the plot centers on the investigation of a mystery, the book reminds me somewhat of Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, but the gags are much more subtle and infrequent.
  • The shout-outs. Popular works of science fiction and fantasy are explicitly referenced throughout the book, none more so than, perhaps surprisingly, Star Trek. There's one passage about three quarters of the way through that calls out every major SF&F series, including both Buffy and Angel. It's enough to make a fanboy like me squee aloud.
  • The narrator. John Lee does his usual amazing job of bringing the characters to life. I can't say enough about this man's voice acting.

What I Disliked

  • The universe. The rules by which magic operates in this universe struck me as somewhat arbitrary and inconsistent, what Nick would call Want-'em Mechanics. I realize that magic is, by its nature, mysterious and nonsensical, but the world Miéville created for this book seems somehow less cohesive than the equally magical one he invented for Perdido Street Station.
  • The Londocentrism. Although I enjoy the way the author's affection for London comes through in this book, I can't help but feel that he thinks London is the center of the universe. There are many instances where "London" or "the city" is used as a synonym for "the world."
  • The comedy. Although a number of the gags are quite amusing, many of them are delivered so sparsely and seriously that they either go unnoticed or fall flat.

The Bottom Line

Overall, I give Kraken 8.0 out of 10. It's my least favorite Miéville book so far, but it's still an impressive act of creation.

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