LitStack Recs: Kraken & Nora Webster

by Tee Tate
Kraken, by China MiévilleCHINA

For the month of October, I’ve been making recommendations of books that I’ve found creepy and/or disturbing for one reason or another (all good, for the most part).  For my final creepy recommendation, I’d like to share with you the author that I find creepiest, and his book that to me is the creepiest, for all the best – but not the most typical – of reasons.

The author is China Miéville, and the book is “Kraken”.

“Kraken” is pure Miéville – all the fantasy, the astute use of language, the subverting of the known with completely unexpected or bizarre twists or reimaginings – all that exists here.  It’s also perhaps one of Miéville’s most ridiculous of books (and I say that fondly), full of pop culture references and religious cult hyperbole; I mean, c’mon, one of the central entities is the Church of Kraken Almighty.  Yes – the cult of the squid.

But… this is China Miéville.  Nothing is ever that simple; there are no single layers in his work.  While the story itself might be somewhat, um, hard to swallow, the characters are anything but (even if they are not even remotely “typical”).  They are marvelous – and at times, horribly, horribly evil.  And weird.  The crime boss, who goes by the moniker “Tattoo” is, well, a tattoo.  Killers for hire Goss and Subby?  In my mind, even more terrifying, creepier, more nightmare-inducing than Neil Gaiman’s Croup and Vandemar.  Then there is Wati, an ancient Egyptian spirit who is kind of like a labor organizer for striking supernaturals, Dane, a fallen Krakenist seeking some modicum of redemption, and the central character, Billy, who is…. normal.  Heart-wrenchingly normal.

But even as marvelous (or horrifying) as these characters are, what really is at the heart of “Kraken” is its language.  Miéville is an intensely erudite writer, but in “Kraken” the writing is arcane, archaic, convoluted and mesmerizing – often it borders on the liturgical.  It washes over you, and at times, you effin’ drown in it, gloriously.

“Pipes filled with brine that spied on the inhabitants of buildings watching, listening, hunting. You might obscure the attention of the Londonmancers, with the complicity of a treacherous borough, with strikebreaking hexes strong enough: but nothing could stay hidden from an inquisitive sea.”

Yes, Kraken’s a little weak on structured story; it’s not as plot driven as we expect in our speculative fiction.  Miéville himself says that “Kraken” is an “undisciplined” book, “a dark comedy about a squid-worshipping cult and the end of the world. It takes the idea of the squid cult very seriously. Part of the appeal of the fantastic is taking ridiculous ideas very seriously and pretending they’re not absurd.”

And yea, well, there’s that end of the world part, too.  It’s creepy, bizarre, squishy and it smells of dark, dank, moldy secrets.  And it’s marvelous, especially at this time of year.

You’re welcome.

—Sharon Browning

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