I got an advanced reading copy of this book through the Amazon Vine program. I have previously read Mieville’s King Rat (loved it), UnLunDun (liked it), and The City and The City (tough read, but interesting). I have mixed feelings about this book. Some of it is quite funny and creative, but a lot of it is just annoying.
You follow a number of different characters throughout this book. The main character is Billy, who is a curator at the Darwin Center. He runs tours of the facility in addition to other duties and the main draw on his tour is a giant squid that has been preserved in a large tank. Only on his current tour, something is wrong, the squid is missing. How does a giant squid just “go missing” from a giant tank? Well two police officers that specialize in a rather abnormal branch of the police force suspect it may all be the fault of that silly religious squid group. They pull Billy into a crazy underground world in London that’s full of magic, mayhem, and numerous religious cults. Billy will find that it may be up to him to stop the apocalypse itself.
I liked the first couple chapters of this book and enjoyed the ending. The concept behind this novel is quirky and interesting and definitely creative. All of the characters are completely off the wall. You have Tattoo, the gangster-like character that exists only as a tattoo on a catatonic man’s back. Collingsworth, a slight female police officer who has a bad case of tourette’s. And a billion other incredibly crazy characters. The overall concept behind this story is very thoughtful. Basically Mieville is exploring the concept of people making things happen because that is what they believe to be true.
There are also a ton of things I did not like about this novel. It is a difficult and time-consuming read. The chapters are erratic in length and the viewpoint switches between numerous characters. There are about a million plot lines with as many characters going on at once. Then there is the Brit-speak, this is especially bad in the beginning of the novel but gets better as it goes on.
Mieville also just throws so many random facts at the reader that after a while (between all the Brit-speak and random junk) my eyes would just glaze over and my thoughts start to wander. Next thing I would be yawning and cursing this stupid book because it never really sticks to the story or gets to the point in any but the most meandering of ways. This was a book I constantly had to push myself through, I had to concentrate to get it to hold my interest. Which is really a pity because between all the extraneous junk, there is an interesting and darkly humorous story in here.
The other bothersome thing is a similarity to other works already out there. The setting reminded me of Neverwhere by Gaiman or The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray by Chris Wooding (I know different time period). The deal with all the gods reminded some of Gaiman’s American Gods. The crazy wackiness with which random events and different deities popped up reminded me of Simon Green’s Nightside series. And in my opinion all the aforementioned works are much more well done. Anyone who compares Mieville’s writing style to Gaiman is on crack, Gaiman writes an absolutely wonderful story and Mieville, while creative and innovative, tends to not focus on the story itself. The setting between Neverwhere and this book are somewhat similar though.
So should you read it? If you liked The City and The City this book is written in the same somewhat fractured and strange style, so you may enjoy it. Just know that this book will require a lot of patience to get through. You will have to struggle through Brit Speak and weed out all the random excess of data Mieville throws at you. It is creative and darkly funny but a tough read. Personally it just wasn’t my thing and put me off picking up any of Mieville’s future works.
This book goes towards the following reading challenges:
– The 100+ Book Reading Challenge