is a novel arising from the twisted brainpan of China Miéville
, author of Perdido Street Station
and its sequels
. It tells the story of Billy Harrow, a curator for the Natural History Museum whose work touring guests around one day is rudely interrupted by the inexplicable disappearance of the museum's preserved giant squid. From there, Billy's day only gets worse as he is drawn into a shadowy London underworld of competing doomsday cults, living tattoos, socialist familiars, and Chaos Nazis
Oh, and the squid? Turns out that half the city is thinking of using it to end the world
. Too bad they can't agree on how
- All Myths Are True: Takes a slightly postmodern or popcultural approach to this idea, but it's definitely there in the work.
- Animated Tattoo: The Tattoo is just that—a tattoo. He's also a mob boss.
- Our Angels Are Different: The 'angels of memory', guardians and embodiments of museums and other places of knowledge.
- Author Appeal: Mieville is back to writing in London, and it's clear that he's loving every minute of it.
- Also, given Mieville's political sympathies, it's unsurprising that one of his characters is the leader of a union for familiars
- Bad Ass: Whilst a good number of characters have their moments, Dane is probably the most consistent example.
- Bag of Holding: a bit of knacking that lets a couple of full-grown men be smuggled in a package that could fit through a letterbox.
- Barrier Warrior: Billy, once he realises exactly what sort of 'saint' he is.
- Belief Makes You Stupid: Deconstructed: Vardy is a highly devout man who also carries the curse of being very intelligent, and suffers problems reconciling his faith with his rationality. While this inner conflict makes him very loopy it also makes him an expert on getting into the heads of religious killers and cultists. It eventually leads him to try and Ret Gone Darwin's specimens to return everything to a simpler age.
- Black and Grey Morality: None of the factions in this are exactly saintly, but the bad guys... are pretty bad.
- Body Horror: Another Mieville specialty. The Tattoo in particular seems to inflict it on his (mostly-willing) employees as a hobby.
- Chekhov M.I.A.: Grisamentum.
- Clap Your Hands If You Believe: Belief has a very significant impact on the world. The Architeuthis has power because it represents the kraken-gods. When Grisamentum is trying to use its ink to rewrite the world, Billy manages to redefine the Architeuthis as being just a specimen, devoid of any link to a higher power.
- Cluster F-Bomb: Collingswood can't open her mouth without uttering half a dozen profanities.
- Cool and Unusual Punishment: Billy tortured a little thimble of sentient ink which really is a part of Grisamentum by using bleach. Then Paul pissed on it.
- Creepy Child: Subby.
- Dark Is Not Evil: The apocalyptic, Lovecraftian cult of kraken-worshippers are actually pretty nice folks, by the standards of this book's Black and Grey Morality.
- The Dog Bites Back: Paul. And how!
- The End of the World as We Know It: A recurrent theme. London's supernatural community runs betting pools and street parties in honour of various cults' prophesied apocalypses.
- Everything's Squishier with Cephalopods
- Fair Cop: Officer Collingswood, the Metropolitan Police Department's resident witch.
- Faking the Dead: Grisamentum, sort of.
- The Fundamentalist: Vardy used to be one. And apparently wishes he could be one again.
- Gainax Ending: And HOW.
- Gambit Pileup: ... Hoo boy.
- Green Lantern Ring: Magic-users in the setting have 'knacks', fields of expertise like teleportation, surveillance, and so on that their powers are based around. More generalised knacks give you more versatile powers... and then there's Goss, with the knack of 'being an evil bastard'. Needless to say, he puts it to very good use.
- Half-Human Hybrid: the usual Human Mom, Non-Human Dad setup is averted (as might be expected of the author) when a photo of a pyromancer, his daughter and a large bonfire is recognised as a family photo.
- Heart Is an Awesome Power: Billy is a saint of museum cabinets. This turns out to be very useful indeed.
- Hitman with a Heart: Despite being a self-admitted murderous fanatic seeking to bring about the apocalypse (well, one of them), Dane Parnell is a remarkably decent chap, and one of the heroes' staunchest allies. This should tell you everything you need to know about the story.
- Humanoid Abomination: Goss. He can eat a fully dressed man, whole, in one bite, without distention or dislocating his jaw. Witnessess can't really describe what happens, only that the victim is just swallowed up.
- I Am A Humanitarian: Whether what Goss does to people really counts as eating or not is unclear... maybe he just vanishes them. He at least pretends to like the taste.
- Implacable Man: Goss. So long as Subby's alive, anyway.
- Impossibly Compact Folding: a topologist with an interest in magic can fold up all sorts of things into tiny spaces, which can be unfolded later back into their complete form. Goss demonstrates that the same trick can be used in an unpleasantly destructive fashion, horribly mangling the folded item.
- Jerk Ass: Kath Collingswood is a rather...blunt woman, let us say.
- Lovecraftian Superpower: The kraken-bit, combining Dark Is Not Evil and Heroic Sacrifice in the name of a better apocalypse.
- Meaningful Name: Grisamentum translates roughly into "grey ink", with the same root words as 'atramentum', or black ink; he wrote his messages in grey-colored text after all
- New Weird
- Psycho for Hire: Goss is practically the Anthropomorphic Personification of this trope (and is strongly implied to literally be that).
- Reality Warper: "Knacking" is a sort of reality warping that works based on symbolism, sympathetic linkages, and belief. A phaser prop that was used on Star Trek can be knacked so that it actually fires, a key that was embedded in pavement can "unlock the street", and so forth.
- Retcon: What the Big Bad wants to do to the theory of evolution. Happens to him (and a zombie squid) instead.
- Ret Gone: Katachronophlogiston, a fire that burns things so that they never existed. Vardy and the Architeuthis get consumed by it. See above.
- Rule of Cool: In and out of universe. Readers are likely to agree with Simon that the fully-functional Magitek phaser is very cool indeed.
- Sanity Slippage: Not that Goss had much to begin with, but he goes from somewhat odd comments ("Didn't think of that, did you, you ferocious little whatnot") through hopefully-pure metaphor ("Sparklehorse and Starpink have managed to creep out of Apple Palace past all the monkeyfish, but if we're silent as tiny goblins we can surprise them and then all frolic off together in the Meadow of Happy Kites") to gobbledygook ("Numbers rumpus schampers grampus orca Belinda.")
- Save The World Climax: It starts with Billy Harrow investigating a minor mystery about a disappearing squid, and eventually escalates to doomsday cults and eldritch horrors trying to end the world.
- Sealed Evil in a Can/And I Must Scream: What Grisamentum tried to do to an old enemy by turning him into the Tattoo. Didn't work out so well. Paul irons out the kinks, much to everyone else's relief, by having the Tattoo's mouth sewn shut.
- Soul Jar: Wati has no corporeal form of his own, and instead freely moves his being in and out of any statue, doll, or figurine within reach, provided it's three dimensional and sculpted to look like something living.
- Subby is nothing more than a convenient carrying case for Goss's heart.
- Supernatural Phone: The novel has 'knacked' mobile phones that can do things like communicate with Wati, a disembodied spirit, or communicate over an unlimited range.
- Talkative Loon: Goss, who is almost unintelligible most of the time. Only serves to make him creepier.
- Tattooed Crook: A bizarre inversion. The crook is the tattoo.
- Those Two Bad Guys: Goss and Subby, even though Goss is the only one of them who speaks. Subverted as we eventually learn Subby isn't much of a person to begin with.
- Those Wacky Nazis: As filtered through a 40K sourcebook, ''The 120 Days of Sodom'', and a whooole lot of illegal substances. The Chaos Nazis are not nice people.
- Took a Level in Badass: At first a fairly clueless Non-Action Guy, Billy grows into a resourceful character by the end of the story.
- Marge. Not that she does a whole lot, but she does it alone (without a Dane).
- Paul, once he decided to stop being just the guy with the Tattoo.
- Twinmaker: Simon's teleportation spell really goes into the Fridge Horror of Star Trek's transporters. Suffice it to say that it's even worse in a world where ghosts exist.
- Unfazed Everyman: Billy starts off as one. Then he levels up. Marge provides another example.
- Unperson/No Name Given: What Grisamentum did to the Tattoo erased his original name.
- Unskilled, but Strong: Collingswood. She can't commit to a particular type of knack, but she makes up for it with raw power.
- Urban Fantasy
- Visual Pun: The knuckleheads.
- Weird Trade Union: Wati's Familiar collective, the Union of Magicked Assistants.