The Singular & Extraordinary tale of Mirror & Goliath by Ishbelle Bee
I’ve been trying to sum this book up, and not getting anywhere. Mirror is a girl whose grandfather locked her in a weird clock; Goliath is the policeman who rescued her and is now her companion and protector. When she is in danger, he turns into a bear. Mr Fingers is hunting for Mirror, because he wants her power. He engages his adopted son, John Loveheart, who was not born wicked, to find her.
That sums up the basic plot, and it certainly sounds weird, but it doesn’t catch the engaging strangeness that runs through the book. There is a dead egyptian princess involved as well, though in what role is hard to say at first. And of course, there’s that clock and the question of how it ended up in Mirror’s grandfather’s hands in the first place. It’s just hard to explain what’s so attractive about this book in fewer words than the author used. Still, if you’ve ever enjoyed the work of China Mieville or Grant Morrison (in comics) then you should check this one out.
Kraken: an anatomy by China Mieville
And speaking of that Mieville guy, here he is again. In Kraken, the setting is modern-day London, UK. Billy Harrow is a curator at the Darwin Centre, a museum of natural history. They have a lot of specimens (including some collected by Charles Darwin himself), but their prize exhibit is a giant squid, preserved in a tank, one of only a few whole specimens in the world. People come to see it from all over, and some people pay it particular attention. When he’s doing tours, as he is doing on the day the book starts, Billy sometimes notices that the ones obsessed with the squid wear peculiar, squid-like pins, as does Dane, one of the guards at the institute. But he doesn’t think anything particular about that until they get to the squid room and the beast in question is gone, tank and all.
This is, of course, impossible. To remove the squid alone would require special equipment; to remove squid and tank would need cranes. You’d need to take out walls. You can’t just stuff it under your jumper and saunter out. But someone, somehow, has removed it. A special police unit under Chief Inspector Baron takes interest in the case (and in Billy); they’re a cult-investigations unit. And there is definitely, in London, at least one cult that worships giant squids. They think the beast in the Darwin Centre’s tank is a god. They are Baron’s best guess for having taken it.
Before he can get deeper involved in the investigation Billy is kidnapped from his home by a man and boy who had themselves specially origamied into a package hand delivered to Billy’s apartment (this is a way to get around certain protections placed on the apartment by canny policewoman Kath Collingswood); these are Goss and Subby, supernatural London’s best and oldest killers for hire (they prove this by killing Billy’s friend Leon, who happens to be visiting). They take Billy to London’s current master of crime, a man who has not let being reduced to a face tattooed on another man’s back stop him from taking control of the underworld.
Billy is rescued from them by Dane, the guard with the weird pin mentioned above. Dane is one of the squid worshippers, and he wants Billy for the same reason that the Tattoo does: his church doesn’t have the squid either. And all signs point to the Apocalypse coming, the world ending. Something connected to the squid which is, after all, a god. And whoever has the god can stop what’s coming . . . or control it.
And things only get complicated from there. I haven’t touched on half the characters yet, some of whom would be spoilers since we don’t get to them until the plot — the real plot — starts to unfold. This is a London with not only sorcery, but people with knacks; supernatural gifts that they can use in strangely limited ways. Collingswood has a few knacks, for instance, and plays a bigger role in the story than I’ve even hinted at.
Since Mieville doesn’t usually set his fiction in real cities (this is the third of his books to be set in modern London) it didn’t read like his usual thing. It was like reading a slightly off-kilter Tim Powers novel (I kept waiting for time travel to pop up. And ghosts). I don’t think I can give this kind of book much higher praise.