Author: China Miéville , 2010
Genre: Urban fantasy. Black Comedy.
Other Details: Hardback. 482 pages.
In Miéville's own words: "It’s 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."
The novel begins with the impossible disappearance of a perfectly preserved giant squid and its tank from the Darwin Centre at London's Natural History Museum. The curator in charge of the rare specimen, Billy Harrow, soon finds himself plunged headlong into a London that he never imagined existed; a London teaming with warring cults, strange magics, and deadly assassins.
I am a huge fan of H.P. Lovecraft's mythos and so anything featuring giant squids being worshipped as gods was bound to attract my interest even if not a Lovecraftian pastiche. Of course, its premise of an ordinary chap suddenly discovering a hidden side to London, which proves a more complex and unusual place than anything he could imagine, also brings to mind Neil Gaiman's wonderful 'Neverwhere'. A hard act to follow though I felt Miéville confidently put his own spin on London's ongoing role as a nexus for strange religions and magical activities of all hues. He draws some on the real-life magical 'scene' though then whirls off into fantastical realms. There are also a lot of geeky in-jokes, not all of which I got though those I did were amusing.
The novel is bursting with fun, creativity and memorable characters. It took me a while to read it, which was mainly due to having a heavy cold and lacking the concentration needed to navigate Miéville's complex plot. I love London, having lived there for a number of years and explored its strange histories and byways, and it is really obvious that China Miéville also has a passion for the city and knows it inside out enabling him to give a sense of both its reality as well as this kind of fantastic tale.
I have a few other books lined up in the urban fantasy genre that use London as its base, though it is hard to imagine that they'll top Gaiman and Miéville.