Review: Borne by Jeff Vandermeer

‘I was alive, and from past experience I knew in time I would forget enough to again pretend that we could someday be free’

I recently put out a Tweet asking the wonderful hive to give me science fiction recommendations. I know I have mentioned endlessly how many books are sitting on my TBR but since this year I seem to be leaning heavily on the SF part of SFF, I felt the need to build up a list. But then I took no recs, and started listening to Borne by Jeff Vandermeer because I was stressed and needed some New Weird. Sound like me eh?

In a nameless City, ruled by a flying bear called Mord, Rachel is a scavenger and a survivor. One day while scavenging Mord’s fur she finds something that she and her partner, Wick, may be able to eat or even sell. But when Rachel brings this thing home and discovers it can talk, grow and think, she names it Borne. Paired with the ever looming threat of their sanctuary being rumbled, Rachel and Wick begin to navigate a new type of family life around Borne. But what is he? And what does he want?

The looming world of the City and it’s sheer decrepit squalor was hard to not fear as Rachel described it from her daily life. This isn’t quite a post apocalyptic world but it’s damn near close. Everything from children to foxes have been forever warped and changed by the biotech the City brought with them. I could definitely feel the danger looming at any second.

I really loved Rachel as a character and her little found family. She was resilient in a world that is otherwise stripped of humanity but is not without compassion. Her and Wick have an interesting,complex relationship that only complicates as the story goes on. However, the true stand out moments are those with Rachel and Borne. Rachel openly calls herself a mother to Borne in many places but as Borne grows and becomes more intelligent, the reader does get the sense that he (gender term assigned by Rachel) is of unknown origin and purpose. Then things become a little more sinister and you do genuinely feel like Rachel is consulting you on those decisions as the story goes on.

I will say my connection to any of the characters waned a bit as the story went and I became more fascinated with the biotech within this world, especially the Magician as she is called. I feel the Magicians story could have been more rounded but that is just a small criticism. The plot itself delivers fantastically and without giving you too many answers, Vandermeer does follow up with reasons why Rachel, Borne and Wick have been so mysterious the entire book.

One of my main motivators for finally reading this was that Vandermeer’s new release, Dead Astronauts, is actually a companion story to Borne. So naturally I read this first and I really enjoyed it. So that will hopefully be soon on the blog, but regardless I highly recommend this book on audio.