Rachel is a scavenger, scraping out an existence in a city that is in ruins, a city in which biotech from the mysterious Company has run amok. Rachel and the other inhabitants of the city live in terror of a gigantic flying bear, a bio-weapon known as Mord, which has been driven insane. When – close to the huge beast – she finds a green lump of something, Rachel takes that something home, giving it the name of Borne. At first it appears to be some kind of genetically engineered plant, but Borne soon reveals itself to be so much more.
Jeff VanderMeer’s latest novel may be built on a bizarre concept (we can’t think of anything else with a giant flying bear), but the author of the Southern Reach trilogy has created a work that takes hold from the start and refuses to let go. Right from the beginning there’s a sense that something is going to go wrong, a dark inevitability that grows in relation to Borne. Its interactions with Rachel and her boyfriend Wick are at first cute, but take on a decidedly sinister turn as Borne’s awareness develops.
As the state of the city worsens, the cracks in the relationship between Rachel and Wick soon begin to show; she’s the narrator here and, although we see everything from her point of view, its easy to feel sympathy for the other characters. VanderMeer’s writing is warm and heartfelt throughout, despite the high-concept science fiction that is on offer here (or, perhaps, because of it).
Borne is a fantastic read, a vivid vision of an apocalyptic future that defies expectations and challenges any preconceptions as to how events are going to unfold. It can be disturbing at times – there are some chilling moments that wouldn’t be out of place in a horror novel – but it’s a book that ultimately transcends genre, offering its reader a range of emotions and a finale that provides more than one twist, all of which should be applauded. Rachel’s story is one that will stay in the memory for a long time; VanderMeer shares her hopes and dreams with us, as well as her failures and concerns, making Borne an intimate portrayal that appeals on a multitude of levels.
BORNE / AUTHOR: JEFF VANDERMEER / PUBLISHER: FOURTH ESTATE / RELEASE DATE: 15TH JUNE