You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012


China Mieville's books feature the city as a force with a life and intelligence of its own. In The City and the City, the city is split in two and the citizens live their lives in careful apprehension of each other. In Un Lun Dun, the city is a whimsical and dangerous inverted version of London. In Perdido Street Station, the city is a mystical and dark London analogue with assorted dangerous creatures. Mieville is a master of urban fantasy.

In Kraken the city is London. This version of London is full of magical creatures and wizards lurking behind the scenes. There are Londonmancers, mages who work magic with the essence of London. They can turn the stuff of London into other useful items, and are attached to the city. There is Wati, a spirit that can inhabit inanimate humanoid forms, and who is a union boss of the city's familiars. And there are many various cults, including the Kraken cult.

Billy Harrow is a curator and master preserver at a natural history museum called the Darwin Centre. His specialty is preserving remains, and his biggest accomplishment is preserving a giant squid in a large glass tank. But things go wrong when the squid disappears one day, apparently vanishing from its storage room. The police are clueless, except for a special team that investigates odd and occult crimes. After a dead body is found at the museum and two dark strangers appear in Billy's flat, Billy ends up joining forces with Dane. Dane is one of the museum's guards and a devotee of the Kraken cult.

The situation gets weirder and darker. The kraken church leaders insist that Billy is important to their religion and must have some hidden knowledge, but he insists he doesn't know what they're talking about. Meanwhile Collingswood, one of the police detectives, is trying to track down Billy and keep him out of trouble. It turns out there are no serious suspects for the theft of the kraken. However everyone thinks that it has to do with an impending apocalypse, and not just your garden variety apocalypse that cults claim every week but a real and final one.

Dane helps Billy escape from the Kraken church, becoming a bit of an outlaw along the way. They try to track down clues to who might have stolen the kraken and why Billy is important. On the way they get help from Wati, who is a friend of Dane's. They find themselves in the middle of a battle between Grisamentum, an underworld boss believed to be dead, and the Tattoo, an animate ink drawing cursed to live on a victim's back.

The story starts off a bit slow and confusing, but picks up steam and gets very interesting about a third of the way through. Billy starts off as a timid character, mostly a two-dimensional character who is just part of the plot. However by the middle of the story he starts to grasp what is going on around him. With the help of Londonmancers, he sends a message through the city to his friend's girlfriend Marge, who receives the message as a blinking light. From here Billy makes sense of the city and puts it to his own use, making decisions and coming to his own conclusions. With the help of Dane and their otherworldly allies, they try to find the Kraken and avert the apocalypse. The magical characters are all fascinating. The cooperation and fights are compelling. Even with the slow start, the book is a fun read. B+

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