DNF Review: The Kraken Sea, E. Catherine Tobler (2016)

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

Maybe fans of Jackson’s Unreal Circus will get more out of it?

two out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program.)

The woman laughed and it was the sound of falling down a rabbit hole and ending up someplace you never expected and didn’t entirely understand.

— 2.5 stars —

DNF at 66%.

Abandoned at a foundling hospital in New York as a newborn, fifteen-year-old Jackson knows little of the world beyond his small slice of it. He’s reasonably well cared for by the nuns – especially Sister Jerome Grace, to whom he’s taken a special liking – yet he’s very much alone, set apart and ostracized because of his differences. Though he tries to hide his true nature, in times of stress Jackson has trouble concealing his scaled skin; the tentacles that wriggle under the surface of human limbs; and the gaping maw that can literally swallow boys his size whole.

No doubt Jackson’s long since given up on ever being adopted – so imagine his surprise when a mysterious woman sends for “a boy like him” all the way from San Francisco. Jackson boards a train for the Pacific and, after a weird and destructive stop at the Chicago World’s Fair (the year being 1893), he joins Macquarie’s, Cressida’s home-slash-mansion-slash-estate-slash-saloon. It’s filled with fantastical creatures like Jackson – human, but also not – as well as intrigue and shifting alliances, which threaten to upend Jackson’s newfound normalcy.

With its carnivalesque vibe, The Kraken Sea seems like a book I should love. And indeed, a few early scenes really piqued my excitement. Chief among them: Jackson’s unplanned stop at a sideshow tent in the White City, where he’s enraged to find a tentacled woman imprisoned in a filthy cage. Cue images of Menagerie’s Delilah Marlow, one of my all-time favorite heroes. There’s a kraken that eats shadows; a fox fur stole that’s actually alive; and stone gargoyles that leap into the air and devour would-be patrons who try to sneak into rival Bell’s without paying.

(More below the fold…)