Macmillan £17.99

Kraken, By China Miéville

The theft of the National History Museum's prized tentacled possession sets a magical caper in motion

China Miéville's novels are often described as pushing against the boundaries of genre, as if the world of the unreal were a prison from which a saner novelist might seek to escape. Yet with this latest book, the author presents us with a world which is at once more and less familiar; London at a glorious slant.

The first 60 pages ride a familiar trail, as Billy Harrow, a rational-minded curator at the Natural History Museum, is thrust into a murky underworld of warring cults and magic-minded criminal gangs by the impossible theft of his museum's centrepiece, a preserved giant squid. Almost as soon as Billy's life begins to dissolve under the pressure, he is approached by members of a shadowy wing of the Metropolitan Police whose remit covers only the most unconventional crimes.

So far, so Torchwood.

Yet it is not much further along that Miéville performs a sly about-face. All the pieces are in place and we can almost hear the comfortable plot mechanics crank with familiar strain until, with the inviting image of an open hand reaching from a wrapped parcel, we are suddenly pulled into a much wilder sort of book; allegiances dissolve, lives end on the point of sharp implements, and the whole of the city is opened out into the backdrop for internecine feuds as old as stone.

Some of this territory is familiar. In his debut, King Rat, Miéville showed us a London similarly undercut with animal magic. Meanwhile, the numerous cults and gangs resemble the ambitious world-building of his novels set in the fantastic city of New Crobuzon. Miéville's landscape is a London not hidden beneath the streets, but wedged in alongside ours – where high-rise flats hide magic-for-hire and Limehouse garages are workshops for converting the unwilling into something rather horrible indeed. This is a magical realm formed – often literally – from the detritus of the modern metropolis.

The author knows the value of the uncanny, and often his slights revolve around only the faintest of twists on the familiar; commuters in motorcycle helmets are transformed into portents of menace, while magical familiars are formed from masonry and scraps of discarded medical matter. As with the best fantastic fiction, after reading, the world around us is transformed. '

However, some commentators in the genre community were up in arms over his previous novel The City & the City winning the Arthur C Clarke Award, as it wasn't "hard science enough" (as though a plot that centred on the outer limits of string theory wouldn't pass without the requisite armies of cyborgs, aliens and intergalactic trappings).

Miéville has talked fondly of genre as being merely a set of rules with which to play, and his writing inhabits its own unique space. Here, he is at pains to place his London in a familiar context, naming places and dropping references like footnotes in a pedant's text. There's reverence, too, and not a little dash of tribalism, in the way he peppers the text with references to genre tropes; in two winning moments, a magical mercenary is bought off with Star Trek merchandise and the electric pentacle first used by William Hope Hodgson's ghost hunter Carnacki proves crucial to police investigations.

Simultaneously reverent and brimming with punky attitude, Kraken proves Miéville is ever forging new ground, even when walking the same grey pavements as his readers.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering