Book Review: Borne by Jeff VanderMeer

Book Reviews copyBorne 1

Netgalley Synopsis: In a ruined, nameless city of the future, Rachel makes her living as a scavenger. She finds a creature she names Borne entangled in the fur of Mord, a gigantic despotic bear that once prowled the corridors of a biotech firm, the Company, until he was experimented on, grew large, learned to fly, and broke free. Made insane by the company’s torture of him, Mord terrorizes the city even as he provides sustenance for scavengers.

At first, Borne looks like nothing at all―just a green lump that might be a discard from the Company, which, although severely damaged, is rumored to still make creatures and send them to far-distant places that have not yet suffered collapse.

Borne reminds Rachel of the island nation of her birth, now long lost to rising seas. She feels an attachment that she resents: attachments are traps, and in this world any weakness can kill you. Yet when she takes Borne to her subterranean sanctuary, Rachel convinces her lover, Wick―a special kind of dealer―not to render down Borne as raw genetic material for the drugs he sells.

But nothing is quite the way it seems: not the past, not the present, not the future. If Wick is hiding secrets, so is Rachel―and Borne most of all. What Rachel finds hidden deep within the Company will change everything and everyone. There, lost and forgotten things have lingered and grown. What they have grown into is mighty indeed.

Author: Jeff VanderMeer

Title: Borne

Publisher: Fourth Estate

Date: 2017

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Can you enjoy a book when, for the majority of it, you weren’t sure what was going on? That is how I felt with Borne. Themes of love, family and belonging are present throughout, which gives it an enjoyable undertone even when I wasn’t sure what was actually going on!

The characters, for the most part, are well defined. Rachel’s need for something more, some purpose in her life other than just surviving made her a relatable character. She needed Borne, needed to nurture and care for something in a world that rebuffed all attempts at normal life.

Borne himself had a sense of innocence that made you like him, even if his nature meant that he was a monster. The bond he had with Rachel was true and he genuinely loved her in his own way.

You never get a lot of Wick until near the end. But his hostility towards Borne is understandable and I found myself liking him even if he antagonises Rachel on multiple occasions. There was just something about these characters that made you want them to survive the destruction and find a way to make it work for them.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​I’d have to get used to that or Borne’s surprise would always be surprising me. Yet when I did get used to it, I would miss sharing that with him, even as it would be a relief. To be dulled to someone else’s perpetual sense of awe was a kind of gift.

What threw me off, however, was the world. The reader is thrust straight into this post-apocalyptic world where a giant, flying bear controls the city and survivors are forced to scavenge for anything worthwhile in order to survive. Flash-backs reveal it is not only this place, but everywhere that has fallen apart. We never find out the reason why – Mord (the giant flying bear!) is only present in this one place.

While you don’t always need the world to be explained, I struggled to understand it. I couldn’t place myself there, I couldn’t imagine the surroundings or understand the threat for these people. Until the Mord Proxies (mini-giant bears, just without the flying!) were created, I wasn’t entirely sure what the true danger was apart from the feral children.

When you don’t understand the world for a book like this, it’s like you are missing a main character. That being said, however, I didn’t dislike the book. The themes running through it, the way the characters related to each other despite their situation, kept me reading, wanting to know how it was going to end.

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The ending, however, did feel a bit of an anti-climax. The reader doesn’t witness the epic fight to take control of the city because they are crawling through tunnels with Rachel, who just happens to find what she needs to save Wick. I didn’t understand how if the threat of Mord only affected that one city, yet the whole world had been destroyed, why everything could pretty much go back to normal after Mord is defeated.

This is a hard review to write simply because I spent most of the book confused as to what was going on. The themes touched me, the characters and their relationships were relatable, but I could never lose myself in the world.

Amazon | Waterstones


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