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China Miéville
Del Rey, 528 pages

China Miéville
China Miéville was born in London in 1972. When he was eighteen, he lived and taught English in Egypt, where he developed an interest in Arab culture and Middle Eastern politics. Miéville has a B.A. in social anthropology from Cambridge and a master's with distinction from the London School of Economics. His first novel, King Rat, was nominated for both an International Horror Guild Award and the Bram Stoker Prize. Perdido Street Station won the Arthur C. Clarke Award and was nominated for a British Science Fiction Association Award. He lives in London, England.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The City & The City
SF Site Review: Un Lun Dun
SF Site Review: Un Lun Dun
SF Site Review: Iron Council
SF Site Review: The Scar
SF Site Review: The Tain
SF Site Review: The Scar
SF Site Review: Perdido Street Station
SF Site Review: Perdido Street Station

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Alma A. Hromic

First things first -- China Miéville continues (and I am not surprised to find this out) to be a word wizard of the first order. I love reading his books just because they are HIS BOOKS, and I am unlikely to see such use of language anywhere else -- he doesn't ever use just any word where the perfect word will do, and every time I read a Miéville novel my vocabulary expands exponentially. He is also a gifted observer and he is capable of sketching out things without dwelling on them, but in such a way that readers still find those things haunting their dreams days after they have put the finished novel down and had thought that they were done with it. Miéville HAUNTS. It's something he is extraordinarily good at doing.

His previous novel, The City and the City, was an absolutely astonishing read -- and it would have taken quite some living up to by the book that followed it. And in spite of the paragraph of praise above, I find myself ambivalent about Kraken. It's Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, in a lot of ways, but it's Neverwhere on a bad acid trip. Miéville's couple of badass feared-by-all casual villains who kind of kill for pleasure and, because they can and in various nasty ways, named Goss and Subby in this book, bugged me at first until I twigged some switch in the back of my brain and realised they reminded me a lot -- perhaps too much -- of Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar in Neverwhere. No, not carbon copies, not in the least, not that -- but they REMINDED me, and far too much. And after that first reminder it was hard to leave that connection behind. And Goss and Subby… lost something by it, were diminished by it, and became more of a caricature than they had, I am certain, been intended to be.

Other things then sat up and started to complain.

Major secondary characters like Wati are inspired -- but the author lacks the courage, in the end, to take them through to an ending that was necessary. (If you're spoiler wary look away now -- but Wati's "death" should have been far more than it was and his "resurrection" was extremely deus ex machina for me. Have the courage to let dead characters stay dead. Let the reader MISS them.)

I am not sure what Marge's role in all of this was supposed to be because I've rarely met -- despite her actions in the novel -- a more passive character. She seems to be moving jerkily from position to position without any particular motivation, even when she and the terrifying Goss and Subby cross paths and any normal person would have pulled in her horns and sat quiet for the rest of her life hoping that they never crossed paths again. I mean, yes, she had lost her lover -- but Miéville never really suggested that the relationship was that intense. I definitely got an impression of a far more casual liaison. And yet there Marge is, facing down the forces of Doom and Hell… for, errr..., no particular reason at all, really. She's just a pawn to be pushed into the right place at the convenient time for when it suits the authorial purpose. And yes, I know this is supposed to be throwing all sorts of faith-like objects into the mix -- but I can't help feeling that everything and the kitchen SINK has been thrown into the mix, and I found myself either tiring and finding it hard to keep up or else simply… failing to care. There's TOO MUCH here. The result is that everything is pretty much by default skated over rather than explored and the reader is left to flounder in it all, in a sea of hints and assumptions by the author that yeah, well, they ought to be familiar with this stuff already. Well, with some of it I AM -- but other things are sufficiently arcane, if "realtime," or are just plain and simple the result of the author's own imagination, and seeing as I don't have telepathic communication with the mind that created these things it is sometimes hard to follow its leaps where it simply assumes that I know what it is talking about.

And the worst sin of it, for me, is a REALLY disturbing sense of a cop-out ending. A version of "And then I woke up and none of this really happened." And I really, REALLY hate that in a book. I kind flailed in this ending, looking for something else, something more, but it all came down to, in the end, a basic (and in the end rather tired and trite) battle of a fanatic of faith against the bulwarks of science -- and really, none of the rest of the book was necessary at all, by this stage.

The book -- unlike anything else by Miéville that I have read -- felt like it was pieced together from distinct and often mismatched parts of at least three different jigsaw puzzles. For a writer whose work has hitherto always seemed seamless, organic, almost animate in its own right, this is something of a jolt.

It's a good read, as far as that goes. It's Miéville, after all. It's entertaining, and if the devil is truly in the details there is plenty of devil in here, enough to keep you busy and paying attention… but in the end… there's too much, TOO MUCH, and it ends on a disappointing note. It's a pity, because with a few less pieces on the board this might have been a far tighter and more ferocious game of chess than it turns out to be in the final analysis. As a trip through the imagination of a China Miéville, it's magnificent. As a novel -- if it had been written by anyone else, and the language only an iota less scintillating than it is, I would probably have put it down somewhere in the middle of the book and quite possibly never picked it up again.

Copyright © 2010 Alma A. Hromic

Alma A. Hromic, addicted (in random order) to coffee, chocolate and books, has a constant and chronic problem of "too many books, not enough bookshelves." When not collecting more books and avidly reading them (with a cup of coffee at hand), she keeps busy writing her own. Her international success, The Secrets of Jin Shei, has been translated into ten languages worldwide, and its follow-up, Embers of Heaven, is coming out in 2006. She is also the author of the fantasy duology The Hidden Queen and Changer of Days.

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